Formula One is set for a major technical overhaul in 2017. Granted, the measures voted in by the F1 commission still need to receive the seal of approval from the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council but we’re talking mere formalities here. F1i’s Nicolas Carpentiers recalls what led to this rules revolution and analyses how next year’s cars will look.
HOW HAVE THE 2017 F1 RULES BEEN DRAFTED?
The 2017 technical regulations were born out of the dissatisfaction some immediately showed when the 1.6-litre V6 turbocharged power units were introduced ahead of the 2014 season. Right from the off, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone himself started blasting the lower engine noise, while former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo riled the fuel saving and tyre management as ‘taxi-cab driving’. Add growing fan frustration at the perceived lack of speed, and these complaints led the FIA to ask for a blueprint to implement faster and more aggressive-looking cars that would be harder to drive.
The initial goal was to produce machines that would be around five to six seconds quicker per lap than at present thanks to oversized wings and bigger tyres. The problem is, such an increase in speed results in unusual and extremely high loads for the tyres. Thus, Pirelli demanded extensive testing opportunities in order to prepare for the rules revolution shaping up for 2017. While the official tyre supplier’s requests were finally heeded and rubber-stamped last month, these also caused a gridlock in talks at the F1 Technical Working Group (TWG), which comprises the teams’ technical directors as well as FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting. With proposed aero changes having an impact on the tyres and vice-versa, Pirelli and the TWG engaged in a back-and-forth negotiation with the teams eventually agreeing upon lowering the constraints imposed on the tyres. As a consequence, F1 cars will only go three to four seconds faster per lap. The F1 Commission adopted the text last February, while also setting an extended April 30 deadline to finalise the details.
FLAT OUT ALL THE WAY
In the mean time, drivers have been voicing their frustration at having to constantly manage high-degradation tyres. Last February, a meeting between Pirelli, the FIA, the teams’ bosses, and some drivers took place in Milan. It was reported that the Italian company would have agreed upon changing its tyre philosophy, provided it were given formal guidelines. Consequently, the FIA sent a letter of intent in April, calling for two principles to be respected: tyre degradation should be limited (especially when following another car) and proportional to the performance of the compound (the softer it is, the higher the degradation).
Finally, the engine manufacturers and the FIA managed to reach a global agreement (voted in on April 29) that addressed four key points: guaranteeing the supply of power units to teams, lowering the cost of said power units to customer teams, working on performance convergence as well as on improving the sound of the current 1.6-litre V6 turbocharged engines.
It was Red Bull that initiated the debate after the energy drink giant found itself without any power supply in the late stages of the 2015 campaign following its fallout with engine partner Renault. Red Bull finally had to pay the price to keep using units from the French constructor, while its junior team hastily agreed to return to the Ferrari fold to race year-old engines in 2016.
Next year will see a price reduction of €1million and a further €3million in 2018, while several measures will ensure lower production costs. Thus, the number of power units allocated per driver for an entire season will go down from five this year to four in 2017, and three one year later. That actually amounts to three internal combustion engines (ICE), three turbochargers, three MGU-Hs, but only two batteries, two control electronics and two MGU-Ks (with a few standard sensors on top of it).
Should a team end up without any power supply, the FIA may force the manufacturer that equips the fewest number of teams to provide the engine-less outfit with a power unit. Much to the dismay of McLaren, which wishes to remains Honda’s exclusive partner.
To that end, engine constructors had until May 15 to let the FIA know about the supply deals they currently had in place. If a team finds itself without a power unit by June 1, then the governing body will move to guarantee the supply of power as follows:
“If you are a team with no offer, so nobody is offering you a power unit, you can ask the FIA to have one and there is a system of ballots,” said FIA Head of Powertrain Fabrice Lom in a technical briefing during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. “So we will take the power unit that has the smallest number of customers.
“If there is only one, this will be the one that will be required to give the power unit. If there is more than one there will be a ballot between the two to decide which one will supply, and there is a low price of €12m from 2018 for this supply.”
Supported by Ecclestone, who thinks the current breed of engines is too expensive and complicated, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner thus managed to win some concessions. Still, the 1.6-litre V6 turbocharged hybrid technology remains, to the delight of Mercedes, and the prospect of introducing an independent engine now appears to be moot.