With 56 days (at the time of writing) until the 1st race of the 2017 F1 season, I thought I should really try to get to grips with the big changes that are being implemented this year.
So, after bribing @ScarbsTech with more coffee he gently manoeuvred me through a barrage of information to try and understand what the changes are and, more importantly, what they mean.
[Caveat – if I get anything wrong, it’s because I clearly haven’t understood properly (or probably and more accurately couldn’t read my writing), so the fault lies with me, no one else and feel free to correct me so I can understand it better – but be gentle!]
When the rules last changed in 2014 they introduced us to the new smaller, 1.6 litre, V6 hybrid engines, smaller rear wings and front wings that were much lower, just a mere 135mm above the floor. However, after the first couple of races of the season it transpired that the GP2 cars were nearly as quick as the F1 cars and for the fans F1 just didn’t sound right and was painfully slow.
The reaction? Rather than slow down GP2 the powers that be decided to speed up F1.
So they went through a process to work out how to reduce lap times by about 5 seconds. That was the primary aim of the working group, well that and to make the car look more exciting – check out these pictures by Andries van Overbeeke.
All the teams put forward ideas, but the biggest and boldest came from Red Bull who suggested making the diffuser bigger and bringing the lower rear wing back in. Initially no one liked this idea, but after various meetings and deliberation it came out victorious.
The theory, from what I understand, is that the floor of the diffuser does most of the work and takes the pressure off the front and rear wings.
So what are the big changes for 2017?
The biggest change is the tyres. They are 24% larger! Which harks back to pre-1996 F1 era. The increase in tyre size adds 60mm to each side of the car and the car has also been widened to 2m.
Although the tyres have been widened this does not mean that the cars have 24% more grip as the tyres are angled to the track at about 2½˚.
In terms of improving aerodynamics, having the tyres further spaced from the car is good as it means the diffuser which sits under the car can be bigger. In fact the diffusers this season are 5cm taller and 17cm longer – and we all know that size matters!
The impact of the larger diffuser means there is more downforce under the car. The underside of the car is also 10cm wider which helps keep the suction under the car too.
Now, not being of an engineering background and I only scraped a C in my O’Level Physics (I can change a lightbulb though) Craig did have to explain downforce to me. Downforce is the vertical force that in an aircraft pushes it up and in a racing car pushes it down onto the track and the more downforce you have the more speed you have.
Well, that seems easy enough to understand, but apparently then you have to take into account the drag factor – oo, now that sounds like a great idea for a new TV show!
So, any object being pushed through the air will always leave drag as the air is pushed out of the way.
On an F1 car (or any car I suppose) there are 3 types of drag:
- Form drag – caused by the cross-section
- Skin drag – caused by the air going along the bodywork
- Induced drag – created by the turbulence coming off all the edges of the car, in particular the spinning wheels and rear wing
The vapour trails we see coming off the car in the wet means the car has a reduced drag which reduces the downforce and as a result goes slower in a straight line. Did I get that right? (Please don’t scream at me if I didn’t – just enlighten me)
So, what does this all actually mean in terms of the 2017 rule changes?
The diffuser doesn’t create much drag so they use it to create more downforce which is why the diffuser has been made bigger.
This combined with the change of tyres means the cars will be quicker round the corners but slower in straight line speed. The cars could be up to 25Kmph quicker in the turn, but 10-15Kmph slower in a straight line, which means F1 achieves their overall target of reducing lap times by approximately 3-5 seconds.
This season they will not be breaking any straight line speed records however cornering will be quicker, which means Mexico will be slower but Monaco could be fun.
Currently drivers experience 4-5G in cornering and 5-6G in braking. In 2017 the number of G on corners could increase, whilst the number of G experienced with braking could decrease.
The tyres and diffuser are the big rule changes with regard to performance, the other changes are mainly visual.
The front wings will be creating a V-shape finishing 15cm further forwards than last season and will be slightly wider to accommodate the new tyres.
In 2009 the rear wing was changed to be taller and wider according to the overtaking group. Now this has been overturned and in 2017 we will see a lower and wider (by 5cm) rear wing, which will be angled backwards – this is truly only to make it look ‘cool’ but all the same it may give a very slight performance advantage.
The side-pods of the car will be angled back 75˚ just to look ‘supersonic’ – the car won’t be supersonic, obviously.
Now, apparently, between the front wing and the side-pod is a no-go area that has no bodywork – cue Craig drawing me lots of diagrams using different coloured pens.
This ‘no-go’ area is effectively the area, along the side of the car enclosed by the side of the chassis the front wing and side-pods.
Now this season, the line from the centre of the chassis to the start of the ‘no-go’ area has been increased to 32cm which means that the start of the ‘no-go’ area is further away from the chassis. This gives the teams more room to play with to improve performance, and this small area, the ‘fun play area’, from the centre of the chassis to the start of the ‘no-go’ area is where they can put all the clever stuff. It could well be that upgrades and improvements will be made in this area at most races.
What there isn’t a limit on is how long this ‘fun play area’ can be, which teams know and the longer this ‘fun play area’ is the better the performance advantage. So everyone is asking if there will be any change to the length of the car.
This new area should help air flow and reduce front tyre turbulence hitting the rear wing and diffuser, pushing the air out of the way outside of the wing or by creating a curtain around the inside.
And, by reducing the air flow this creates less drag which means a smaller rear wing, which in turn will give more straight line speed for the same downforce. This is much more efficient.
So, these are the big rules changes that apply to each and every car and assuming there’s only one car running its own there should be no problem. But when you put two cars together, that’s when the theory may not work so well in practice.
The track is 4m wide and let’s face it, they aren’t going to be widened.
So with a wider car this means there is less space to overtake.
The front wing is still complicated and very influential with regard to air flowing to the back of the car. A lower, wider rear wing means more dirty air and mess close to the track as well as the car behind and it will be dispersed over a wider area.
With the following car running in more dirty air this gives it less downforce at the front and as the dirty air moves backwards it will make the rear less efficient, so the car has less downforce and grip making it hard to follow and almost impossible to overtake.
The other problem is that braking zones are shorter as the distance between straight-line speed and cornering speed has decreased. So cars can’t follow, overtake or out-brake which probably means in terms of watching, more processions instead of more wheel-to-wheel action.
The plus side to the changes is that more teams will have a chance, especially in that mid-table zone.
Each driver has 4 engines for the year, but as the token system has been removed everyone can, effectively, start from scratch and redesign the whole engine if they so choose. This means that in terms of engine performance it should be a closer battle seeing as you can make any, and as many changes as you like.
I did ask Craig his predictions for the season and here they are:
- World Champion: Lewis Hamilton
- Constructor Champion: Red Bull
Craig reckons that the surprise of the year will be Torro Rosso who will be very competitive but also keep an eye on McLaren and Renault!
Here’s to Australia and a fab season of racing.