Formula 1’s 2017 dramstic regulation changes are expected to make the cars much faster and more difficult to drive, which in turn will mean the drivers will have to be physically fitter to take them to the limit.
For the first time in the modern era F1 is introducing rules to make the cars substantially faster, not slower.
F1 cars will feature wider bodywork and front wings, wider and lower rear wings, and bigger front and rear tyres, which are all expected to make the cars look and perform faster.
Pirelli has already begun to test its new tyres with the Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes teams ahead of next year, when downforce levels and cornering speeds are expected to rise considerably.
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Former F1 racer Sebastien Buemi, who recently tested the 2017 tyres in his role as a simulator and development driver for Red Bull, even said that new drivers would be “scared to jump into the car” after he sampled the new rubber on a 2015 car set up to generate the anticipated increase in downforce.
Senior engineers also believe that the new cars will be a significant challenge once the wider tyres are combined with the full new chassis and aero packages that are under development for next season.
Conversely, it is not yet known what percentage of the time the tyre compounds will allow the drivers to be pushing the handling limits of the car, and, as an extension, their own physical limits.
Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, who was speaking at the pre-event press conference at the Japanese Grand Prix, explained that the conditions at last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix – where new asphalt and virtual safety cars allowed the field to push harder for longer throughout the race – had reiterated the need for the drivers to be as fit as they possibly can be.
“It’s not a secret we will need to do a step in our physical condition for next year,” he said. “Already [in] Malaysia this year we were in qualifying nearly as fast as the lap record; the race, because of the tarmac change, was three-to-four seconds per lap quicker than last year and you could already feel it.”
The physical preparations F1 drivers make are always competing with many other demands on their time and the 2017 pre-season will be perhaps the most important block of training time since the mid 2000s.
This may turn out to be especially toughfor the handful of young drivers – several with late adolescent musculature still maturing – who have recently made their F1 debuts or will do so next season.
But Sainz, who began his F1 career at the start of the 2015 season, reckons the added pressure of needing to be physically fitter could actually turn the situation into an advantage for some drivers.
“It’s a challenge that I always welcome. It means more time in the gym, more time on a bike – but it means that also in the race a physical limitation comes into play and it’s where you can make the difference.
“So, I will welcome it. Also the challenge of driving a faster car is always more difficult, always more selective with drivers, so it can only do good for Formula 1.”
Speaking separately to JAonF1, Sainz described his belief that F1 drivers in the current era no longer enthuse young fans in the way that the likes of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost did in the past.
With next year’s cars expected to look visually more aggressive and be harder to drive, 2017 provides F1 with an opportunity to showcase the inspirational heroes that Sainz feels are currently not reaching fans.
“When you are between 10-to-20, to 25-years-old, what you need in life is something like an idol, a figure, a hero,” he said. “Nowadays, F1 drivers, we don’t create that sense any more in a younger audience.
“There is the digital [market potential], and there are the social networks that can help a lot, but mainly and primarily I would say that that [hero] figure is what you need to create in young people. [Give them] people to look up too.”
Raikkonen: “too early” to say how much faster 2017 F1 cars will be
Speaking alongside Sainz at the press conference in Suzuka was Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who has already tried some of Pirelli’s 2017 development tyres in testing for the Scuderia.
The 2007 world champion described the new tyres as having more grip than the current designs, but stressed that the full nature and speeds of the 2017 cars would not be definitively known until the start of winter testing.
He said: “There’s a bit more grip but to be fair it’s very early days for Pirelli’s new tyres, so I think we are only going to really see what we have once we have the proper cars next year and the tyres in the first test and the cars are far from what they will be next year, what we’re using in  testing.
“I think it will be faster, but how much and how it’s going to be, how the car is and the tyres together, it’s too early to say.”
Earlier this year, former Ferrari technical director James Allison told the FIA sport conference that the new cars will be visually “very appealing”, which may help to attract fans put off by the current designs.
What do you make of Sainz’s comments on the 2017 cars? Will more challenging cars provide F1 with an opportunity to attract new fans? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.