By Bob Constanduros

New year, new season but this year that isn’t all. Each Formula One season brings its feeling of anticipation. I’ve been involved in quite a few over the years and each time you’re tempted to say ‘this is going to be one of the… whatevers.’ There is always anticipation, fed by testing performances, for instance, or any other reason. We always want to know who is going to perform well, that might happen, how changes are going to affect the teams.

 

And that, perhaps, is the main focus going into 2017; how are the new rules going to impact Formula One? But at the same time, there is a different focus: how are the new owners going to change Formula One?

 

That is not something that’s suddenly going to change overnight, but it is going to change. As has been mentioned elsewhere – and something I mentioned ages ago – there are a lot of contracts in place with races, teams, promoters, sponsors, TV companies etc and these cannot be changed in an instant, so the changes to how Formula One looks will take place slowly over the years, not suddenly.

 

More important are the new rules and these, I think, are going to make a big difference – and not necessarily for the better. For once, the rules came from the FIA and even when they were announced, I remember Toto Wolff saying that he didn’t feel that they were going in the right direction. The FIA were concerned that Formula One times were comparing badly to those of GP2 which weren’t so far behind and that Formula One drivers were not racing hard for the length of a Grand Prix, that the general technical rules were slowing them down. Of course, Formula One has been in the process of being slowed down for years; it has been a requirement in order to contain cars within circuits and to prevent endless enlargement of run-off areas.

 

But then came this move to make cars faster so that drivers would be racing hard throughout the two hours of a Grand Prix. There  would be more grip with wider tyres, aesthetically pleasing aerodynamics, tyres that would last longer and take more punishment. The cars would be quicker in the corners if not down the straights. They would be wider, wings lower, a little bit more fuel to play with. Engines could be developed throughout the year without the restrictions of the token system. Starts would be more in the control of the drivers rather than engineers. (A synopsis of these changes come at the end of this blog).

 

It was with these regulations in force that cars came to Barcelona at the end of February for the first of two four day tests, a total of eight days in which to test the new cars. Straight away the cars were faster but they would improve by three seconds during the eight days of testing, leaving the benchmark for the Spanish Grand Prix – round five – at 1m 18.634s set by Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari.

 

But even then, Ferrari were being accused of sandbagging and the game of guessing who would be quick and who wouldn’t be had begun. Ferrari, however, were certainly in the ball park as they were throughout testing, with only an accident for Kimi Raikkonen to delay them. They were fastest in a straightline and did the second most number of laps only to Williams. Of particular note was the phenomenally complicated  aerodynamic treatment ahead of the side pods to channel air into the car, wing and tyres behind. They spent considerable time on harder tyres – which was something that Mercedes did last year – but this didn’t hold up progress and the car looked very stable in all areas. After last year’s disasters, it seems that Ferrari is back.

 

Did they have the legs on Mercedes, however, the championship leaders for the last three years? Mercedes were certainly once again at the front, second fastest in terms of times but covering more distance than anyone else. They were third fastest through the speedtrap, within 1.4kph of Ferrari and yet not quite as planted as Ferrari, with a  touch of understeer. However, they were certainly to be counted; virtually nothing halted their progress during the eight days of testing.

 

Red Bull Racing would also be expected to be up at the sharp end but did the seventh most number of laps after being overtaken in this area by several other teams during the second test. They did have teething troubles which cost them time and the straightline speed was only fifth fastest, 6kph down on the Ferraris. In terms of lap time, they were usually in the top four and it was generally thought there was more to come with aerodynamic development, so that would be a team to watch, and it seemed that Renault had made steps, confirmed by the works cars.

 

In amongst the top three was Williams with their briefly retired driver – Felipe Massa – and newcomer Lance Stroll. The young Canadian cost the team a couple of days due to accident damage, so that while the team still did 800 laps overall, including a massive 168 by Felipe on one day, they missed out in the first week, doing only the sixth most number of laps. Similarly, they were only sixth fastest in the first test but again Massa’s pace over one lap put them third fastest, ahead of Red Bull. No surprise that they were also second quickest in a straight line…

 

You could say Renault would expect to be next, ahead of Force India, Toro Rosso and Haas. The French team really looked good on occasions but were only eighth in the lap count, although they were fourth fastest in the first test and sixth in the second. But there are hopes and expectations at Renault and they are quite justified; they were fifth equal with Red Bull in the straightline stakes although nearly six kph down on Ferrari.

 

Like new pop stars, Formula One team’s second cars are always the difficult ones, but the new Haas behaved pretty well. They were sixth in the distance stakes and around seventh or eighth in terms of times. They were quick in a straightline but there are interesting similarities with the Ferrari, so maybe that has been a help.

 

You could say that both Force India and Toro Rosso were disappointing. The former had to give Alfonso Celis a day’s testing and they did do the fifth most laps but they were slow in a straightline and were only eight or seventh quickest. The drivers, incidentally, were very well matched. The Italian team had its reliability problems and did the least number of laps in the first test but came back in the second, also setting fifth fastest time having been slowest in the first test, so there is some hope there.

 

Bringing up the tail – for very different reasons – are Sauber and McLaren. Sauber actually did the fourth most number of laps but never particularly quickly. Pascal Wehrlein was unable to drive at all in the first test but with Fabrizio Giovanazzi’s help, they did 787 laps overall and fairly reliably but with the slowest time and the second slowest straightline speed. McLaren, on the other hand, were slow and unreliable and that was on the softest rubber. It is a disappointing outlook for the team from Woking.

 

Obviously all that can change in two weeks – this is Formula One after all! So we go into the first race with a reasonable prospect of decent weather and a potential three way battle at the front. Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen and Alonso –  World Champions all – are previous winners, there’s always the possibility of a red flag or safety car but a decent result will reap points so there’s teams will be looking for a reliable race weekend. There’s lots of questions which will be answered in a couple of days…

 

Here’s a rundown of the new rules:

 

Why?

Lap times were being compared to GP2 times, cars were not spectacular, too slow, not hard enough to drive and drivers under the limit to conserve tyres. Cars now look more aggressive.

Aeros

Ever decreasing envelope of aero development has been enlarged. Rear end squished. Front wings 150mm wider. Rear wings 200mm wider, 150mm lower, swept endplates. Diffuser 50mm higher, 50mm wider, 175mm longer. Width is increased by 200mm to 2000mm limit.

Weight limit

Increased by 26kg due to bigger cars and tyres. Must now weigh a minimum of 728kg.

Tyres

Now 60mm wider at the front, 80mm at the rear, providing more mechanical grip. Drivers need to push harder for longer without fear or degrading their tyres; change of philosophy: fewer pit stops, less degradation. Extra set of intermediates if high chance of rain expected in FP3.

Tyre choice mandated and frozen for first five races.

Non-listed parts

The regulations regarding parts that may be outsourced have been tightened as has the aero testing of those parts, in order tighten a loophole in preventing teams from gaining extra CFD and windtunnel time by using third parties to conduct the manufacture and sharing of data.

Fuel limitations

Capacity has been increased by 5kg to 105kg to take into account extra drag created by this year’s cars. Only five different formulations allowed in the year, and only two allowed in each race.

Engine development token system replaced by other restrictions

Instead of limiting engine development by the use of tokens in order to allow more freedom for manufacturers to develop their engines, there are now limits on the weight, dimensions and material make-up for certain components. There is a minimum weight for the engine crank assembly, MGU-H and MGU-K ancillaries and a total weight for the energy recovery system, which may not be reduced in volume in season to allow for easier packaging. There is also a maximum compression ratio for each cylinder head.

Available engines           

Last year, there being 21 races, five of each of the individual power units were permitted, but now with 20 races, only four are permitted. Furthermore, teams can no longer stockpile fresh elements by making several changes at one event.

Engine parity

Manufacturers must now supply identical engines to customers to those that they use themselves. Furthermore, the supply cost must be €1m cheaper than last year. However, as before, teams may run engine spec from a previous year, as Manor and Toro Rosso have in the past, and as Sauber is doing this year.

Standing starts in wet weather

Tough regulations have come into force regarding starts on a wet track. Races will no longer restart behind the safety car but instead, after lapping to clear the track, the field will then take up their positions for a conventional grid start. However, that doesn’t apply to a race that is stopped which will then restart behind a safety car.

Clutch starting procedure

It is now the responsibility of the driver rather than his engineer to find the bite point of the clutch, and the map setting that point is no longer as flat as it was. In the past, drivers had to be within 80 percent of the ideal bite point set by their engineers, but that is no longer permitted and drivers will have find the right bite point themselves. Furthermore, the clutch pedal behind the steering wheel is now isolated, preventing double pedals.