In RACER Magazine: Performance Anxiety

In RACER Magazine: Performance Anxiety

Formula 1

In RACER Magazine: Performance Anxiety

They look faster. And they are faster. But will Formula 1’s 2017 rule changes result in cars that actually race better? All will be revealed.

This year’s heavily remodeled Formula 1 cars will look the business – longer, lower, wider and meaner – and put the go in the show with great slabs of extra aerodynamic and mechanical grip. But will they do the business for F1’s new business model? Will seat of the pants put butts on seats and sofas?

Former Williams tech chief Patrick Head insists not: “Optimists must have rocks in their heads. Any idea that [this] will close the field up is nonsense.” In his informed opinion, the established order will become instead more entrenched and distended.

Peter Wright agrees. And he should know. He “created” the problem. During his first spell at the now defunct Lotus F1 team, he was fundamental to the giant performance leap from the harnessing of ground effect. Its brutal culling at the end of 1982 lumbered F1 with (basically) the pitch-sensitive and turbulent flat-bottom cars of today, with all their compensatory suspension trickery in between.

Wright, who also created the first “active” F1 car with Lotus, has sat on the opposite side of the logarithm table, too. As the FIA’s long-term Technical Advisor, attempting to keep a lid on costs and speed, while spicing up the racing and making it safer, he was fundamental to the implementation of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) in 2009, Drag Reduction Systems (DRS) and high-degradation tires in 2011, and the roll-out of turbo-hybrid power units in 2014.

But it’s as a fan first – he’s semi retired these days – that he frets about F1’s new turn: “I do enjoy a good race. [But] I don’t see that they’ve done anything to aid passing. In fact I can see a number of things likely to make it more difficult. The drivers will prefer these cars, but I’m not sure why we need to make them happy.

“My guesses are that the gaps at the front of the field will increase, and that there might be a mid-pack shuffle.”

So is Formula 1 in its 2017 guise about spectacle or perception?

For the first time – bar the vanity panel of 2013 that hid a botched nose job – form has been ruled as important as function and safety. The new models will look fast standing still, thanks to mandatory styling cues – namely, a delta front wing; sidepods with an angled (in plan view) leading edge; a cantilevered rear wing with swaged endplates; and unchanged bodywork (extending 1.4m/ 55in from the chassis’ centerline) on a floor widened to create a more streamlined look.

Let’s hope that the old cliché, “If it looks right, it is right” still has teeth.

Certainly the class of 2017 will reinvigorate F1’s potency. The seven remaining lap records that have stood since the “sprint” 3-liter V10s of 2004 are expected to tumble when a 25 percent hike in downforce – a consensus figure as teams fill “sandbags” with the usual pre-season BS – is transmitted by equivalently fatter Pirellis. The predicted gain is 3-6sec/lap.

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