Formula 1 returns with significant changes, after years of critiques from fans, lack of serious competition on track and declining television audiences.
The cars are now up to five seconds a lap faster and look much better than before. Moreover, having a lower and wider stance, they should be better suited for overtaking.
“The car is amazing in terms of the speed we carry through the corners,” three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said of his Mercedes. “It is definitely the fastest I have ever been in F1.”
Red Bull driver, Daniel Ricciardo said: “They look cool.” “They look pretty mean. And low and fat. Kind of old-school. It is going to be fun.”
The first seeds for change appeared back in 2011, when F1 drivers expressed their dissatisfaction with the grip levels of the then new Pirelli tyres. Cars simply could not be pushed hard enough for prolonged periods of time, because tyres lost grip.
Alexander Wurz, chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association says: “It all started because the drivers were not happy with the grip levels.”
“You can see from the tests that the new rules are back to a ratio of power and grip and lap time where a race driver is not always easily at the limit of the car.”
“He also has his own limits, which are physical, concentration, respect. That’s a good success for the whole industry.”
Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel praises the new cars:
From a driver’s point of view, it’s better pretty much everywhere. Braking is better, cornering is better, you’ve got much more grip.
“Then in low speed, where arguably downforce effect is less, you have wider tyres so the grip from them, it works pretty much like an aspirin, it fixes everything. It’s difficult to compare. It’s a different animal, a different beast.”
Still, there are concerns that although cars look good and drive great, overtaking might be a problem.
As Hamilton puts it: “Following is not good. It is worse to follow another car. I don’t know how that will work out in a race.”
“Now the turbulence is easily twice as powerful coming out the back of a car. It magnifies the issue we had before. Let’s hope the racing is fantastic, but don’t hold your breath.”
A new change is brought by the new Pirelli tyres. They now allow drivers to push hard for long periods. It is important to note that because of being harder, they last longer and fewer pit stops will be needed during a race.
The drag reduction system (DRS), introduced seven years ago to make overtaking easier is questioned as well. When activated, it increases the top speed of the car with over 10km/h. While it does make overtaking easier, unfortunately, the skill of the driver is no longer taking the central spot.
Hamilton describes DRS as “a bit like a Band-Aid for the wrong rule changes in terms of the way the cars are designed and built”.
This year, Ross Brawn, the former Mercedes team boss is in charge of shaping the F1’s future direction. He says he wants to get rid of the DRS system.
On the other hand, Wurz does not believe that overtaking is the most important thing in F1, but rather competition.
“Generally, I believe the most important thing is competition – and not just between two team-mates but between a few teams – and that the races are close. So I think it is fundamental that the aerodynamic philosophy should change so it is not so sensitive driving behind each other. And that can be achieved.”
An F1 car’s aerodynamics is focused on the front wing. That means that keeping a certain distance from the car in front is important, in order to avoid turbulences and potentially sliding wide.
Wurz says: “In an F1 car, when you go behind someone, you are always thinking: ‘OK, I am that close, so I must enter the corner a little bit slower because otherwise I am going to slide too wide in the mid-corner and apex and I am going to lose too much time or even make a mistake.”
Bringing radical aerodynamics changes in F1 will definitely not be easy. For now, the public discussion still revolves around the potential difficulty of overtaking.