By Adam Tate, Managing Editor
After a series of fraught meetings in Geneva for the Strategy Group and the F1 Commission, officials have announced that the teams have reached an agreement on some of the changes for 2017, while a full consensus has been delayed to a new April 30th deadline in order for the finer details of the plan to be ironed out.
After basic decisions about the future of the sport regarding an engine cost cap for 2018, and a baffling odd change to the qualifying system, F1 bosses have finally begun to define the rules for 2017 and the new generation of cars it will bring.
Going into the meetings it was understood that Christian Horner and Red Bull were pushing for more aggressive aero development to see the 2017 cars five seconds per lap faster. McLaren countered this plan with a compromise of only making the cars three seconds per lap faster as they and many others feared that five seconds would be too great of a strain on the designers and especially on Pirelli to achieve in just a year’s time. A vote led to McLaren’s proposal being adopted as the way forward.
What has resulted is the most significant shakeup to the exterior design of the cars since 2009 and perhaps since 1998.
The largest change will be an increase in width from the current 1.8 meters to 2 meters, last used in 1997. Tires will also increase in width, the fronts by 60 mm, the rears by 80 mm.
The sidepods will now be swept back for a more visually dramatic look and bargeboards will be increased in size. Wings too will change, with the rear wing thankfully returning to the full width of the rear of the chassis, and somewhat unfortunately lowered by 150 mm. A change which will hurt the air flow of following cars. The front wing will increase in width by 150 mm and stay proportional to the tires as they are for 2016. Simplified front wing endplates are on the agenda, but unfortunately simplifying the front wing as a whole is not yet. The increasingly overly complicated front wings have been a major hindrance to cars running in ‘dirty air’ and their cost has sky rocketed as it has been one of the few areas with open aero development since 2009. Cutting down the number of elements on the front wing should be a major priority for the Strategy Group moving forward and it will be a major test of it to see if they make progress in this area.
The rear diffusers are also set to grow and to start in front of the rear axle, this will serve to create much more downforce from the underbody of the chassis, but it still falls well short of bringing back true ground effect cars. It is a shame that the teams have not been bolder in this area, but the incremental improvements to come from having a larger diffuser is a major step in the right direction and may well pave the way for a true return of ground effect in the near to mid-term future.
Finally, after many drivers demanding action in the wake of last year’s tragic losses of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, cockpit protection is firmly on the agenda for 2017. Though the details of how it will be implemented fall under the spectrum of yet to be determined, Mercedes’ halo design is the leading candidate so far.
The cars will now develop much more downforce, aerodynamic grip and mechanical grip. The changes will prove a massive challenge and an equally massive opportunity. The teams now have the daunting task of beginning the 2016 season with the 2017 changes looming just over the horizon. Expect a development strain on all but the top teams to complete the task; some will be forced to fight out 2016 till the end if the championship is close, while others might throw in the towel early in order to go all out on their 2017 design in the same manner that many teams did in 2009. A strategy that served Brawn and Red Bull particularly well. We will follow all the developments to see how the regulations will be fine tuned between now and the April 30th deadline. It is safe to say that the drama of the sports current situation will only increase until this time next year, when a new generation of Formula One car has its first Barcelona test.