Formula One is planning a major overhaul of its aerodynamic rules for 2017 which will reverse some of the changes made in recent seasons.
Wider cars with larger aerodynamic surfaces at the front and rear are in the pipeline. The aim is to increase performance with a target of reducing lap times by around five seconds.
But is that a goal worth achieving and could it have undesirable side-effects?
Smaller engines, restrictions on aerodynamics and the introduction of single-specification tyres have curbed F1 car performance in recent years. The gap between F1 and other high-performance single-seater cars such as Super Formula and IndyCar has reduced.
Reversing some of the reductions in downforce, such as those introduced in 2009 at the recommendation of the FIA’s Overtaking Working Group, will address that. It should also make the cars more challenging to drive.
The faster cars will look more dramatic when they are in action and the planned alterations to the wings should also make for more aesthetically pleasing designs. Increased downforce could make overtaking more difficult but more powerful DRS may solve that.
Quicker cars does not necessarily mean better racing. For example Formula E’s racing was been widely praised despite the fact the cars are far slower than F1 cars – they would probably be outpaced by F3 machines.
More downforce will mean greater turbulence which will make it more difficult for cars to follow each other and overtake. The difficulty of overtaking remains a complaint for drivers even in the DRS era – these proposals will make it yet more difficult.
Drastically overhauling the rules just three years after the last significant change will increase costs for teams and make life even more difficult for all but the very richest competitors. This is also likely to have a negative effect on the racing.
I also think F1 has something to gain in the speed stakes. Today’s cars hit awesomely impressive high top speeds, yet over a lap they are not sufficiently quicker than the top single-spec series to justify the gigantic extra cost of designing the cars. In race trim they can look almost ponderous, but that’s more to do with the tyres than the aerodynamics.
Will bigger wings make overtaking more difficult? I don’t think it’s as simple as that. It’s not just a question of how much downforce a car has to begin with, but how much it loses when running behind another car. Perhaps the 2017 cars will perform better in turbulence than the current ones do – until they’re on the track it’s hard to say.
But while the idea looks pretty good to me on paper, I have reservations. Not least because no one appears to be making the case for why the reduction in downforce six years ago with the goal of improving overtaking should now be reversed. This seems like another example of the hasty, knee-jerk rule making which has damaged F1 in the past.
Though I’m sure the wider cars would look and perform better, it’s the quality of racing which is F1’s bigger problem at the moment. And I believe the best way to promote close racing is to stop fiddling with the rules all the time: instead, keep the regulations stable and allow the cars to converge in terms of performance.
So for once, I’m sitting on the fence. Unless you can persuade me otherwise…
Do you want to see cars with bigger wings and tyres in 2017? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.
Are you for or against F1's new aerodynamic rules for 2017?
- Strongly for (15%)
- Slightly for (26%)
- Neither for nor against (8%)
- Slightly against (21%)
- Strongly against (29%)
- No opinion (1%)
Total Voters: 345
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