Thursday’s Strategy Group Meeting could prove pivotal to the direction the sport takes when expected technical regulation changes come into effect in 2017. Discussion, provoked by an overtly negative media majority which has failed to understand and thus embrace the sport’s current regulations, is rampant over how Formula 1 cars need to be changed to ensure better, closer racing.
The disappointing reaction, a large proportion of the culpability for which can be laid at the door of the FIA for failing to publicise and properly explain the new regulations, coupled with the dominance of the Mercedes AMG team has been blamed for tumbling television figures in all but a few countries (the sport’s critically important market of North America being one of the few good news stories) and an ensuing panic amongst the decision makers that things need to change in order to stem the flow of fans away from the sport. The teams, via the Strategy Group, will once again be charged with the responsibility of discussing and agreeing the changes to be voted through by the F1 Commission and, in the run up to Thursday’s meeting at FOM’s Biggin Hill HQ, a worrying development has arisen.
It seems unlikely that there will be any real change to the power units used in the sport, the 1.6 litre V6 hybrid powerplants being widely agreed to be the direction in which the sport should be moving. What does seem likely is that the unpopular fuel flow limitations will be removed, allowing more power, more torque and, it is hoped, an end to the hated and much maligned need for drivers to coast during a race. On that topic, over the weekend of the Spanish Grand Prix, the FIA sent a directive to all teams insisting on constant pressure over a flow rate of 90 kg/h, in order to ward teams away from using fluctuating pressure to create a sort of boost. Removing the current limitations on fuel flow and pressure from 2017 may thus allow development in this very area.
The dangerous development, however, is that with the expected dropping of fuel flow limitations has come the suggestion that refuelling be brought back to the sport. It is considered that such a move would prove popular with fans from a strategic perspective, and may be necessary if the fuel tank size and amount of fuel permitted for use in the race remains restricted.
If it is voted through, then the lunatics truly will have taken over the asylum. For there is nothing more singularly guaranteed to kill the spectacle of modern Formula 1 than a return to refuelling.
The reasons are simple. The only way one will get the close racing the fanbase, which lest we forget has not actually been effectively asked for what it wants, so apparently desires is by making the cars as equal as possible. The best way to do this is to reduce the differences between them. I’m not advocating a 100% spec championship. We might as well just pack up and create GP1 if we wanted that. But if you reduce the number of variables, it follows that you create the circumstances in which equality can move closer to reality.
One of the greatest variables in racing is weight. By ensuring that everyone starts with the same weight of fuel, you take out this key variable. You remove one of the biggest potential differences between cars. And, in this era of hybrid engines and supposedly eco friendly racing, any car which is able to use its mandated weight of fuel more effectively than its rivals, is surely a more marketable product.
The return of refuelling would kill modern Formula 1 and any level of the excitement we currently have.
Of course the problem, if you can call it such, that we have right now is that one engine manufacturer and one team have done an outstanding job, and all the others are trying to catch up. So what should we do about it? Do we tear up the rulebook and start again? Some argue that we should. But if we do, what is there to stop the same outfit that has made the best use of its time, resources and employees’ brilliant minds to create a nigh on unbeatable package from doing exactly the same thing again? Throwing everything in the bin and starting again does not mean you will definitely get a different outcome. And it will cost everyone a fortune. Fortunes that only a few have.
Instead, there are small modifications that can be made which would, I believe, result in the type of change that the majority wish to see.
We have already touched on removing fuel flow restrictions, and I think that this has to be priority number one.
After that, we need Pirelli to change the way in which it delivers its product. The 18 inch wheel debate still rages, and Pirelli will be testing their latest iteration on Thursday and Friday this week in Barcelona on the GP2 development car, to be driven by Luca Filippi. Pirelli itself is keen on 18 inch wheels, but it is also keen on throwing a curveball element into the mix. Pirelli is understood to have discussed the possibility of bringing a mystery selection of tyres to each race. Nobody would be notified of which compounds were being brought, with the two on offer simply being dubbed “Hard” and “Soft” (Pirelli HATES the use of the words “Prime” and “Option.”) The “Hard” might be Hard, Medium or Soft. The “Soft” could be any compound softer than the “Hard.” Nobody would know. Practice would be crucial for the teams to figure out what tyres they’ve got for the weekend.
Pirelli is also keen on bringing Qualifying tyres to the party, and I can’t think of anyone who would be unhappy with that. Two sets per driver, per qualifying session, so six in total if you made Q3… no complaints here.
Finally you’ve got to look at aero. Hearing Lewis Hamilton complain he couldn’t get close enough to Sebastian Vettel in Barcelona, despite the half second and more pace advantage the lead Mercedes of Nico Rosberg held per lap, simply isn’t right. We need to reduce dirty air and we need cars to be able to follow each other.
With that in mind, I would advocate a standard diffuser, and either a standard or heavily regulated floor, utilising skirts and Venturi tunnels to create Ground Effect. Also at the rear, a heavily regulated, simpler rear wing and a removal of the Drag Reduction System.
At the front end, a simplification of the front wing and the number of planes permitted. When one looks at Red Bull’s latest front wing and that its crash testing procedure to get it race ready cost, according to some estimates, over $3 million, this is an area which simply has to be brought under control.
The Formula, as it exists, is actually very good. All that is required to make it exceptional are a few tweaks to ensure that the cars are powerful and tough to drive, but also that they can follow each other and most importantly that they can race each other.
While some will bray that the use of standard parts is not Formula 1, the requirement to adapt to survive is overwhelming. We are not talking a spec series, and we never will be. But F1 designers will always want to create a car that cuts through the air as effectively as possible, while making it impossible for another car to get close to it. If we want to see close racing, it follows that teams must have this ability removed and so the standardisation of key elements that create dirty air must, to my mind, be seriously considered.
Let’s see how good F1’s designers truly are, when they’ve got one hand tied behind their backs.
I’m not on the Strategy Group… but if I was, come Thursday, that’s what I’d be arguing.