F1 2017 Preview: Rules Changes

Never one to save teams money for too long, Formula One is undergoing another major rules change this season. Having introduced the hybrid V6s in 2014, the teams are now going through a major overhaul of the aero formula to increase the speed of the cars. While the cars look new, it may actually make the racing worse.

New Aero Formula

For 2017, Formula One has introduced a new aerodynamic formula for the cars to make them faster and look better. While a number of changes to the formula has been done with increasing downforce and therefore decreasing lap times in mind, there are also some aesthetic considerations taken into account with the rules.

The biggest change is that the car’s with has increased from 1,800mm to 2,000mm which returns cars to their pre-1998 widths. That width is from the outsides of the tyres. The bodywork, including sidepods and floor, has a maximum width of 1,600mm, up from 1,400mm.

To coincide with this, the front wing is increasing from 1,650mm to 1,800mm. For aesthetics, the wing is getting a slight “arrow” look with the middle of the wing being slightly forward of the rest of the wing and it slanting back from centre at 12.5 degrees.

The rear wing is being widened and lowered. The rear wing was 750mm wide and 950mm high last season. This season, the wing is 950mm wide and 800mm high which give rear wings their pre-2009 appearance back. Most wings have sculpted-looking endplates that slant outwards as a result of the width of the tyres relative to the width of the wing but I can’t find that being mandated in the regs. The rules do mandate the back-slanted endplates.

The rear diffuser, which helps the car generate downforce under the car using ground effect aerodynamics, has grown in side in all three dimensions. The diffuser’s width has gone up slightly from 1,000mm to 1,050mm but the big changes are in length and height. The height of the diffuser exit is up from 125mm to 175mm and has extended beyond the rear axle when it previously started at the rear axle. I’ve explained diffusers before and the bigger they are, the more downforce they help generate so this might be one of the more critical regs this season.

And with all of the new aero regs, the cars have been given a minimum weight increase of 20kg to 722kg.

Of course, I can’t help but feel that F1 missed the mark with their interest in increasing downforce using the wings and bodywork aero is a move in the wrong direction. In 2018, IndyCar is taking control of their bodywork regs so that the majority of downforce is generated through ground effect because wings and winglets disturb the air and make close racing difficult because wings need clean air to generate downforce while ground effect needs to kick out clean air to be its most efficient.

F1 is heading in the opposite direction of IndyCar and close racing and passing very well may suffer as a result of these new rules. They should have cleaned up the aesthetics of the top of the cars while eliminating the 100mm step above the legality plank and increasing the diffuser size so that the cars have more downforce but clean downforce.

By the way, there is almost certainly a rules change coming to the cars coming for 2018 and we’ll hear about it within weeks. I’ll cover it in the Aussie GP recap but if you start hearing rumours about car redesigns and driver seating positions, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Wider Tyres

After the success of the three compounds per weekend rule introduced in 2016, that is retained for 2017 but the tyres themselves are going to change.

To give the cars more mechanical grip, the tyres will be wider by about 25%. The front tyres are widening from 245mm to 305mm and the rears are going from 325mm to 405mm. Unfortunately, the wheels are the same 13″ wheels and tall sidewalled tyres despite Pirelli having asked in the past to increase the wheel size to 15″ or more while keeping the overall size of the wheel and tyre combo the same.

Pirelli also says that they are changing the construction of the tyres so that they don’t fall off as quickly so cars can be pushed harder without grip concerns over the course of a stint. I hope they don’t go too far with the durability of the tyres. If the grip doesn’t go away, it doesn’t really open up too many options for strategy.

Power Units

No major changes have been made to power unit rules. The engine development token system has been removed. Various parts now have mandated part weight, dimensions and materials. The rule allowing an extra power unit component (five instead of four) for seasons with more than 20 Grands Prix has been removed. It wouldn’t be in effect this season as their are only 20 races.

The only change of note isn’t directly a power unit regulation change. Last season, Mercedes stockpiled power unit components for Lewis Hamilton by using several power unit components above the limit of five on his car in Belgium. This season, that rule has been amended so that you can still add as many parts as you want but only the last part fitted (i.e. the one you’re going into the race with) is allowed to be used going forward. If you fit a car with a 5th and 6th internal combustion engine, for example, and run the 6th ICE in the race, you will get a penalty for going back to the 5th ICE later on.

Wet Starts

In previous seasons, a wet race that started behind the safety car would commence green flag racing as if it was any other safety car restart.

In order to spice up the racing, 2017 will see a standing start from the grid when the safety car wet start period comes to an end. This is to ensure that all races have a standing start and we’ll get extra chaos and unpredictability thanks to a wet start.

However, the FIA has implemented this rule in a particularly convoluted way under Sporting Regulation 39.16. This rule is about race starts in unsuitable conditions. It states that the safety car will lead a formation lap rather than a race start lap under safety car and the formation laps will continue until the course is deemed safe for a start and a grid start is executed to start the race under green flag condition or the FIA declares “start procedure suspended” which will be treated as a race suspension red flag and the cars will go into the pits and the race will be started using the Article 42 race resumption rules (at least one lap under safety car before green).

Sporting Reg 39.16 also adds an interesting point to Article 5.3 governing race distances. Sporting Reg 5.3 c) says that “If the formation lap is started behind the safety car, the number of race laps will be reduced by the number of laps carried out by the safety car minus one.” So the cars will drive for the scheduled race distance, including a formation lap, under the new wet start procedures. The trick is that not all of those laps will be race laps.

For example, last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix was scheduled for 71 race laps plus a formation lap. The first seven laps were behind the safety car before they went green. Let’s call the first lap an ersatz formation lap so it’s one formation lap and six more “formation laps” behind the safety car. As Article 5.3 c) says, the race distance is shortened by the number of safety car laps minus one so the 71 lap distance is reduced by six (seven laps minus one) for a distance of 65 laps.

Helmets

I don’t like the helmet rules but it is what it is. F1 under Bernie and the FIA aren’t exactly interested in unique innovations or driver personalities. Anyway, drivers are now allowed a one-off complete change of their helmet design. Therefore, for 19 of 20 races, a driver must use their standard design (or a helmet that looks quite like their standard design) and the other race can use a special design.

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