his 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
Red Bull Racing’s RB13 shows the visual
changes for 2017. The aero and tire tweaks
will make for faster laps – estimates say 3-6
seconds quicker – but will they improve, or
even hinder the racing? In recent years, the
quest for better racing has proved elusive.
So, fingers crossed on this one...