Driving F1's New Breed

Driving F1's New Breed

RACER Magazine Excerpts

Driving F1's New Breed

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Current Formula 1 cars are slower than they used to be, and not as physically demanding. But don’t think that makes them any less challenging, say the drivers…

As well as a cacophony of dissent over the sound the current breed of turbo-hybrid Formula 1 cars make (or don’t make…), there’s been much debate about their outright performance levels, the challenge they present their drivers, and how they compare for spectacle with the generation of cars they superseded in 2014.

On overall pace, they are undeniably slower than in 2004 (grand prix racing’s fastest-ever season) when F1 had 3-liter, V10 engines, a tire war between Bridgestone and Michelin, and refueling that split races into three or four sprints between pit stops. Comparing tracks with relatively unchanged layouts, 2015 F1 cars are around 3 percent slower than in ’04.

Pure speed aside, there’s a perception that drivers have too much of a helping hand from technology, too much advice from the pit wall, and aren’t being pushed to the limit of their own abilities. So, are the current cars really easier to drive than their predecessors? And if so, what can be done to ramp up the challenge for the drivers, and the spectacle for fans?

“I don’t think the car is easier to drive compared to how it was before, or when I started my career,” says Williams driver Felipe Massa, who first raced in F1 in 2002. “The only thing that’s easier is the physical side, because we start with high fuel [up to 100kg/220lb], which makes for a very heavy car. That takes less physical effort because you are slower. But that doesn’t mean it’s easier to drive.

“Before, it was a real physical workout, because you were only putting maybe 50kg [110lb] of fuel in at each pit stop, so the race was more of a sprint, plus the tires were more consistent than they are now. So you were pushing hard, lap after lap, compared to what we do now. But it’s still difficult to save the tires, and to do all the work you need to do.”

Adds Force India’s Sergio Perez: “When you hear comments about them being too easy to drive, for sure they aren’t. It will always be hard to get the maximum out of the car, and the way we drive to get the best out of them is still totally on the limit.

“With the lack of rear downforce, it’s trickier. The amount of torque that you have from these power units is huge. The combination of a very light rear end, quite low levels of downforce and drag, and so much torque is what makes them a challenge to drive.”

The big difference being that, in race trim, getting anywhere near ultimate performance is superseded by the need to manage parameters such as tires and fuel. But other factors have also come into play to change the way these cars are driven…

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