There’s been a major shakeup in the rules to F1 for 2017, there’s going to be faster lap times, with the cars having more grip and more drag. To do this the F1’s governing body the FIA has changed the Pirelli tyres and the aerodynamics, while at the same time making some changes to the contentious engine development token system. As a result of the big tyres and bigger diffuser, the cars will corner much, much faster, but will be slower on the straights, although on balance the lap times will fall by some 3-5 seconds. Along with this, the shape of the front and rear wings are being skewed to make the cars look more exciting.
But the bad news is the rules haven’t taken overtaking into account, braking zones will be shorter, the cars are wider and the DRS effect is reduced, moreover the cars will still lose aero performance when following another car.
Pirelli have worked with the FIA to create a new series of tyres, these aren’t simply widened versions of the 2016 tyres, but a new breed with different shape, construction and compounds. The rear tyres are now 405mm wide and the front tyres are equally some 25% wider. Along with this the car has been widened from a maximum of 1800mm to 2000mm.
This change gives the cars more mechanical grip, which means more cornering speed, better traction and better braking. While there remains a five-compound selection from ultrasoft to hard, the tyres will behave differently to the more temperature and slide sensitive tyres of late. So not only do we get cars cornering harder, the drivers can race harder and not suffer the degradation designed into the current tyres.
The wider tyres alone will greatly add to faster laptimes, but to assist them, the cars will also produce more downforce. This will largely come from a bigger diffuser; a wider floor will not lead onto a Diffuser some 170mm longer and 50mm taller. This focus on the diffuser helps in several ways, firstly the diffuser is ales sensitive aero device than a front or rear wing, then secondly the diffuser produces very little drag with its downforce. This latter factor is critical as the new larger tyres will hugely increase the drag of the car, so a more efficient diffuser will help maintain top speeds.
At the front the wing is a little wider, this is not a performance gain, so much as a method to keep the front wing tips in the same alignment to the front wheels as they are on the 2016 cars. Part of the ‘cosmetic’ upgrade is the wings new delta shape when seen from above, again this isn’t a performance enhancement it’s just to make the wing ‘look’ better. Above this the nose must be longer, with the tip sat above the middle of the front wing. Every team will run the nose as short as possible, while the rules have made no effort to rid the nose tip of the thumb tip extension, albeit not every team seek to run such a shape. Longer noses also encourage teams to run “S” ducts inside the nose to manage the airflow over the longer nose cone.
Then at the back the rear wing is lower, wider and shallower, this effectively downsizes the wing. But the angled endplates mounting the wing, another ‘cosmetic’ change, will give some extra leverage for the wing to act upon the car. With the added drag of the big tyres, teams will want to run a small rear wing and rely on the diffuser for downforce. One means to keep a good airflow to the lower rear wing will be shark fin engine covers, as the fin helps guides airflow around the roll hoop and towards the wing.
If the wings are getting the aesthetic treatment, then the offset may be the greater freedom for ‘bargeboards’ alongside the cockpit. The area to the side of the car has been opened up for bodywork and this means complex packages of fins and vanes. These won’t be the simple large triangular bargeboards fitted to the cars of the nineties, but far more complex versions of the 2008 turning vanes.
With the new power unit formula from 2014 giving us the 1.6l direct injected turbo V6’s with their double energy recovery systems, the token development rules that restricted how much teams could alter the engine over the course of the season has now been scrapped. So, the power units that were switched off in Abu Dhabi last November, we free to be developed by their manufacturers over the winter. This gives each of the four manufacturers (Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda) carte blanche to change whatever they like, within a set of mildly revised rules which determine the minimum weights of certain components (Crank, MGU etc.).
Then with four engines per driver for the season, each of the new units can be completely different to the preceding one, if the manufacturer has the will and resources to do so. So, Turbo layouts and combustion formats are likely to be the key areas of focus. Power outputs with the v6 engine and hybrids could peak at near 1000hp, despite the fuel flow restriction. So, the PUs will be pushed hard and reliability may suffer as the four PU’s to close up on performance. This 1000hp will be available for qualifying, and only for certain points in the race, as the race fuel load is limited, albeit increased by 5Kg for this year to 105kg from start to finish, two thirds less than in 2013!
No changes have been made to the exhausts for this year, for some the sound of the current F1 cars is an issue, so no remedial actions have been taken. That said the engine are getting louder and more varied each year, especially as the hybrid systems are maxed out and the V6 petrol engines are being pushed harder.
With the wider tyres, suspension and bodywork, comes more weight, to the cars can now be a minimum of 728kg (inc driver) up from 702kg last year, this along with the extra race fuel will make the cars some 31kg heavier at the start of the race! Helping the driver are thicker brake discs, these won’t add any extra power to the braking effort, but will allow the drivers to brake hard for longer during the race.