The new 2017 F1 cars will look ‘spectacular’ according to one leading team boss, but the team technical chiefs have been discussing concerns that the drivers will find it hard to follow each other and to race, due to the increased aerodynamic effect of the new rules.
At a meeting of team technical bosses yesterday at the FIA in Geneva, concerns were aired about the fact that the front wings are even more important than before and that one car following another, losing airflow and therefore downforce on the front wing, will find it hard to stay close enough through corners to try an overtake at the next braking zone.
This is not new, these views have been aired before, but the fact that the discussion comes just weeks before half of the teams will roll out their new cars, shows that the concerns have not gone away, despite extensive simulation in the teams’ factories.
It has also become clear through the simulations that, although there is a greater emphasis on aerodynamics, a powerful engine is still very important to push the ‘draggy’ car through the air. It is for this reason that Red Bull boss Christian Horner has been saying that he still believes Mercedes will have the edge in 2017.
It also appears that Ferrari has not been successful in its quest to ban the advanced suspension systems that create a shift of ride height between corners and straights, to optimise front wing downforce in the corners. Ferrari is late to the party on that, compared to teams like Red Bull and Mercedes that have advanced systems. A technical directive from the FIA is expected to clarify this situation imminently. It is not a promising situation for Ferrari, that underwent much upheaval last summer with the departure of James Allison and his replacement as technical director by Mattia Binotto at the time when the really important work was being done on 2017 cars.
The Italian is highly regarded and is seen as an excellent co-ordinator, but he faced an uphill task to rebalance and refocus the technical forces around 2016 development and 2017 innovation.
Meanwhile there is optimism that the cars will make a positive impact visually when they roll out later this month. Renault, Force India and Mercedes all pull the wraps off their cars between 21 and 23 February, with McLaren and Ferrari unveiling their own challengers a day later. Toro Rosso has announced it will reveal the STR12 on 26 February.
Mercedes’ motorsport boss Toto Wolff reckons the 2017 cars are going to look visually impressive as a result of the regulation changes, while former Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds has welcomed the fact that the championship won’t face repeat of the ugly noses many cars have sported in recent years.
In 2012 and 2014, F1’s regulations forced some teams to create striking approaches to their nose designs and this caused a storm of criticism directed at the look of the cars. In 2012 this took the form of awkward steps midway up the nosecones, while two years later many cars featured unsightly protrusions hanging over the front wing as the teams tried to create as much downforce as possible from that area and still comply with rules implemented to lower noses overall to reduce the risk of drivers getting injured in side impacts.
“I am most excited to see how the new cars are going to go because we expect them to be much faster,” said Wolff. “They look spectacular, and it is going to be much more physical for the drivers.”
The last major overhaul of F1’s chassis rules in 2009 was also attacked for producing ugly cars, by Symonds believes the 2017 changes have avoided such a scenario.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, he said: “I think the cars look great. I’ve said before I was really worried that they’d look quite retro, but they don’t. They look quite nice.
“As with all these things, we could have tidied up a few areas and done things better to improve the aesthetics of the cars. But it’s not like the horrible [stepped-noses] things we had in 2012 or that sort of time.”
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