Has any F1 team made a breakthrough with the new 2017 rules, using a clever loophole? Will it change the competitive landscape?
Success in Formula 1 more-often-than-not comes through having a faster car than the competition and there have been numerous examples of teams interpreting the rules in clever ways to gain an advantage throughout the championship’s history. But Williams’ Rob Smedley has warned that the way F1’s rules are formed has made it more difficult for teams to find these advantages.
In 2017, F1 will introduce its biggest aerodynamic rules shake-up since the 2009 season and the cars will look visually more aggressive. Wider tyres return and the cars will feature wider bodywork and front wings, and wider and lower rear wings.
The teams that started working earliest on their 2017 challenges will be in a stronger position, as they will be the first to test what does and doesn’t work in simulations and wind tunnel work.
But some squads may find a loophole in the rules to gain a significant advantage over their rivals. Brawn GP – along with Williams and Toyota – famously ran an innovative double diffuser in 2009 and got such a large benefit the Brackley-based team was able to rack up enough points to claim both world titles despite eventually being caught in performance terms by the other outfits who were forced to develop their own system later in the season.
Smedley, Williams’ head of performance engineering, does not rule out that there are loopholes to be found in the 2017 regulations but he explained that such opportunities were becoming harder to find in modern F1 as the teams themselves have a say in shaping the rules.
Speaking to Autosport, he said: “Every time there has been a new set of regulations, at least through my time in F1, those openings have become smaller and smaller. The reason for that is that the technical regulations are pretty much written by senior technical people within the teams. The senior technical people in the teams are of the mind that we’re all looking for a loophole, we are all trying to get the start on our competitors.
“But as these rules get written and because it’s a collaborative process and it’s written by people who are looking for loopholes, then the loopholes are pretty much closed off in the regulations.
“This set of regulations has been very much at the forefront of that. We’ve tried to close down the loopholes as and when. Do loopholes or areas of high exploitation still exist? Of course. Have we or other people found them? It remains to be seen.”
Five of the best F1 loopholes
F1 designers have produced some amazing innovations and radical cars over the years. Some historical examples were the ground effect cars of the 1960s and 1970s, the six-wheeled Tyrrell in 1976, and the Brabham fan car in 1978.
But here are five examples from recent memory of cars that featured novel devices to take the most benefit from the regulations at the time.
Renault developed its mass damper system – a weight suspended between two springs – to help with the vibration and tyre bouncing of its double championship-winning R25 car in 2005.
But the device, which Renault also used on its R26 and was copied by other teams, was controversially banned by the FIA after the French Grand Prix in 2006.
Ferrari was the first team to move mirrors onto the sidepods of its 248 F1 back in 2006 and several other teams – including Renault and Red Bull – made a similar move to find an aerodynamic gain in the years that followed.
But after complaints about poor visibility from drivers, the FIA ruled that mirrors had to be fitted on the cockpit sides on safety grounds following the 2010 Chinese Grand Prix.
As outlined above, Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota, started the 2009 season with a double diffuser fitted to the rear of their cars after spotting a loophole in the regulations. The devices generated massive amounts of downforce in the season when F1 had moved to greatly reduce the number of aerodynamic parts teams could run on their cars.
Several squads lodged an official complaint but the FIA ruled the double diffuser was legal and the teans without the device had to quickly implement their own versions.
McLaren arrived at the start of the 2010 season with its F-duct fitted to its MP4-25. The system provided an aerodynamic speed advantage, as its drivers were able to alter the air flowing from the front of the car and down the shark fin engine cover to help stall the rear wing.
The device was quickly copied by rival teams but after some variations forced drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel to activate the F-duct it was banned for 2011.
In 2014, Red Bull attempted to incorporate F1’s mandatory onboard cameras inside the nose of the RB10 to minimise their impact on the air moving over the front of the car.
Whilst such an approach was technically allowed by the regulations, the team was forced to fit the cameras more prominently after the FIA stepped in ahead of that season’s Monaco Grand Prix.
What would you pick as the best F1 loophole device? Are there any other systems you think deserve praise for their innovation? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.