F1 2014 Season Preview: Rules Changes

We’re less than a week away from the start of the 2014 Formula One World Championship. The cars turn their wheels in anger for the first time this weekend in Australia at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne.

While, theoretically, the championship is up for grabs every season, given that there are generally few major rules changes between season, the dominant teams from previous seasons stay on top in the next. This season, however, the rules changes are so many and so extensive that you can expect a major shake up in the running order.

New Engine Formula

f1-2014-mercedes-turbo-v6For the first time since 1988, turbochargers are back in Formula One. The venerable 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8 engines that have been in service since 2006 have been retired. In their places, the new engines are 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines.

Like the old V8s, the V6s are required to have a 90° V-angle between the engine banks. While the last few years saw V8s limited to 18,000 RPM, the V6s are limited to 15,000 RPM. They will also a have a fuel flow limit of no greater than 100 kg per hour over 10,500 RPM and a flow rate calculated only by a secret mathematical formula below that threshold.

Energy Recovery System

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System hasn’t been eliminated for the 2014 season. Instead, it has evolved into its next form. The KERS is now the ERS. The Energy Recovery System is designed to capture and then output a lot more power than the previous KERS units.

The ERS unit adds heat recovery device to the car’s turbocharger to capture waste heat expelled. This is stored as an electrical charge by something called a  Kinetic Motor Generator Unit which is connected directly to the drivetrain. The original KERS devices will also be a part of the ERS setup. Combined, the driver will have an additional 161 horsepower available for 33 seconds per lap which is up from the 80 horsepower for six seconds with just the KERS.

Engine and ERS Reliability

In previous seasons, cars could use up to eight engines during the season with each subsequent engine used resulting in a 10-place grid penalty. With the new turbo V6s, teams can only use five engines per car. That limit also extends to individual parts of the car. Things like turbochargers, the ERS unit and the KERS device are also covered by the five unit limit.

Should a driver exceed the five unit per season limit, they will receive a ten-spot grid penalty. Any additional violation of the limit will result in a five-spot grid penalty.

Nose Height and Front Wing Width

f1-2014-debut-toro-rosso-str9-noseThe rule change in 2012 that said that the nose height couldn’t be higher than 550mm higher than the reference plane. This season, noses cannot be higher than 185mm above the reference plane. The regulations have been written in a way so as to avoid the stepped noses that have plagued the appearance of F1 cars since 2012.

What has resulted instead is that the teams have redesigned the noses to be comically narrow (and phallic, according to some fans and pundits) in order to maximize the airflow underneath the cars to increase downforce.

Also, the front wings have been reduced in maximum width from 1,800mm to 1,650mm. Along with the requirement for shallower angles on the rear wing, the idea is to reduce downforce levels in 2014.

Gearbox

The semi-automatic seamless shift gearboxes are still going to be on the cars. However, the teams are now required to indicate the eight gear ratios to be in their now eight-speed gearboxes and that’s it for the season. Well, they can make one alteration to the gear ratio set during the season but any subsequent changes will result in both cars getting a five-spot grid penalty.

Penalty System

The FIA has introduced a penalty points system for this season. Various driving offenses carry a prescribed number of penalty points for the violation. Accumulating 12 points will see a driver earn a one-race ban. Upon completion of the ban, their points total will be set to five points so seven more points earns an additional ban. These points last 12 months from when they were awarded at which point they expire.

The race stewards have been granted a new five-second penalty in addition to all the previous penalties at their disposal. Rather than applying this retroactively after the race, this penalty would require drivers to serve it alongside their pit stop. In other words, drivers can pit but must wait five seconds without any action before pit work can begin.

The application of grid penalties has changed. If a driver is given a grid spot penalty but does not move back the specified number of spots (for example, he moves back 7 spots on a 10-spot grid penalty), the remaining spots he didn’t move back will be carried over to the next race. Those remaining grid spots unpenalized will be applied to his starting position in subsequent races until he has been given ten spots of penalties.

Double Points Final Race

You might have heard about this one but the final Grand Prix of the weekend will see point values doubled in both the World Drivers’ and World Constructors’ Championships. As such, the winner will earn 50 points rather than the normal 25 with that doubling continuing to 2 points for 10th place.

It’s supposed to keep the championship from ending too far ahead of the final race of the season but Vettel still would have clinched the title in India last season. Basically, this is a gimmick but at least it’s not as transparently a gimmick as NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

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