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Bigger, faster, more furious

It’s all change this season as F1 prepares for its biggest regulation change since the 2014 introduction of hybrid power units, but this time the attention has been turned to the bodywork and tyres of the car as F1 seeks to add more grip and more downforce to up the pace and add even more excitement in 2017. Yippee!

However, while the changes are big they essentially fall into three key areas – the technical regulations governing the look of the cars, the rules concerning tyres and sporting regulation changes that will influence the racing itself. In our first look at this year’s big shifts, here’s how 2017’s cars will shape up.

Pumped Up Kicks

You’re taking the core principles of your car and seeing what you can do with that within the new regulations.

The impetus behind this latest set of changes was to make F1 cars significantly quicker – predictions have varied between two and five seconds a lap quicker – and part of that target will be attained through changes to the look and feel of the cars. In short they’re bigger, wider, lower and have more squat and those changes offer more scope for improving performance and upping the pace.

How has that been done? Well, let’s start with the car itself, which has been widened, with the track boosted from 1800mm to 2000mm. That means that the wings, front and rear, have also been widened.

The front wing size has increased from 1650mm to 1800mm. The specification also means that the front wing will be ‘pointier’ and more swept back, adding the aggressive look of the cars.

At the back of the car the rear wing has been lowered from a maximum height of 950mm to 800mm. Again that will give the cars a ‘racier’ look.

Diffuser Boost

One of the most important changes relates to the rear diffuser, which has been substantially enlarged. The height increases from 125mm to 175mm, while the width goes to 1050mm, up 50mm on last year. There are significant opportunities here for aerodynamicists and the change should make the diffuser more effective and add downforce.

While racier-looking cars means quicker lap times there is some trade-off. The increase in size (allied to larger tyres) means that the weight of the car is greater – up to a 722kg minimum from 702kg last year). That increase should be more than offset by the pace added through aero and mechanical grip, however.

Design Shift

The changed looks mean a huge rethink on the part F1’s designers. However, the shift doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water, as Head of Aerodynamics Dan Fallows explains: “You like to believe you have a good understanding of your [previous] car and if you have a good car and you get a rule change then there is a good opportunity to exploit that understanding rather than refining older concepts. You’re taking the core principles of your car and seeing what you can do with that within the new regulations. With areas that have changed greatly you also have the chance to go back to first principles to see what it is you really want to deliver.”

Bigger Black Circles

F1 casts a glance back to its golden age with the introduction of much wider tyres this season designed to improve mechanical grip and add downforce. Indeed, tyre manufacturer Pirelli reckons that the new spec rubber will add around two of the targeted five seconds per lap improvement the sport is hoping for.

The front tyres have been widened from 245mm to 305mm, while the old 325mm rears are expanded to 405mm wideboy status. The diameter of the tyres has been increased too, though the wheel rim size remains the same at 13 inches.

Compound Interest

We’ll still have three compounds each weekend. At the season’s opening race Pirelli has specified the yellow-banded soft compound, the red supersoft and the purple ultrasoft be present. In China drivers and teams will be provided with the white medium compound, soft and supersoft tyres.

Pirelli has also stated it is homologating a ‘back-up’ series of more ‘traditional’ compounds should there be any unforeseen issues with the tyres used at the opening rounds.

Next time, we’ll check out what’s happening in the Sporting Regulations, looking at how F1 2017 is closing power unit element loopholes, why engines will gave to last even longer and what happens to races when the heavens open. Stay tuned!