F1 2017: be careful what you wish for
Not a wheel has been turned, barely a 2017-spec power unit fired up in anger. A thousand known unknowns to ponder and still (at the time of writing) six weeks to wait till the first F1 test in Barcelona on 27 February.
God, the F1 winter break is boring – at least for those of us charged with reporting on it, while teams hunker down behind closed doors in frenzied pursuit of this killer mod or that marginal gain.
But glimmers are emerging of a new and different F1 that will demand a step-change in our perceptions of the sport. As we explore in our 13-page analysis of the 2017 regulations (p26-38), this is the first time since the 1966 ‘return to power’ that regulations have been devised to make cars faster – and dramatically so.
Then as now, drivers will be presented with machines several seconds per lap quicker, that will require modified driving techniques and which will alter the nature of circuits: corners that were previously ‘quick’ may now become ‘flat’ while the formerly humdrum may now become challenging.
Unlike the ’66 reset, however, the gains will be made through changes to aero, tyres and chassis, rather than by the effective expedient of doubling maximum engine capacity (as was the case from ’65-66). So fatter tyres are in, built to a low-degradation brief, as are a wider track, bigger wings and higher downforce levels.
As an indication of what we might expect, Pirelli simulation data has shown that the demanding Turn 3 at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya – currently a tyre-eating fourth/fifth-gear uphill right-hander, taken at around 145mph – will become a ‘nailed down’, 5G, 160mph screamer.
The Becketts-Maggotts-Chapel sequence at Silverstone, meanwhile, will change from a left-right-left-right set of sweeps, each generating 4G of lateral load, to a repeated 5G sequence. That’s a 25 per cent increase in cornering load – a staggering margin in a sport grown used to incremental increases.
Drivers will feel the strain, making F1 2017 quite literally a pain in the neck as shoulder and upper-back muscles get used to a whole lotta load. Twitter watchers will note that drivers’ off-season ‘Tweets from the gym’ have shown them pushing weights as well as carving out miles on high-end road bikes. Pure cardio fitness is less in demand; more urgent is the need for drivers to hold on tight and ‘muscle’ machines through the high-speed stuff. Think back to Nigel Mansell in the 1992 Williams FW14B: one reason he was so devastating in that actively suspended car was that he was burly enough to manage its high cornering loads.
Bigger, beefier drivers, then, for bigger, beefier cars? Yes, but also compressed braking distances, fewer line choices through corners, perhaps less requirement for finesse and decreased likelihood of devastating deeds from outrageously talented youngsters.
Still, there are reasons for optimism as we prepare for ‘lights out’. Here’s hoping we get what we want.