Concluding our look at the rule changes coming into force in 2017, we focus this time on the Sporting Regulation tweaks designed to make this year’s championship more closely-fought, cheaper and potentially more colourful…
With the accent firmly on chassis, aero and tyres this season, power units, which have dominated the conversation for the past three seasons, are less likely to grab the headlines this year, especially as we edge towards power convergence. There are however, changes to the rules surrounding their use.
Last year there were several occasions on which drivers chose to stockpile power unit elements by making multiple changes at an event. That loophole has now been closed and if a number of new elements are introduced only the last element fitted can be used at subsequent grands prix without incurring a penalty.
To meet the demands of the new cars, the regulations governing fuel usage have been adjusted, with the previous maximum of 100kg of fuel to be used in a race being elevated to 105kg.
The rather confusing token system by which teams could 'spend' an allotted yearly amount of tokens on power unit upgrades during the season has been scrapped.
In order to cut costs, drivers will be limited to four power units per season compared to last season's five. In 2018 the number will drop to three. The 2017 power unit regulations have also been rewritten to guarantee supply of power units to teams should any team face the prospect of going into the following season without a supplier. In order to cut costs further, the price of power units supplied by manufacturers must be reduced by €1m in 2017, and from 2018 the price will be capped at €12m.
In the case of a wet race where it's deemed that a start behind the safety car is necessary, the cars will lap behind the safety car until conditions are acceptable for a standing start. The safety car will leave the track and then all cars must return to the grid, take up their grid positions and follow the normal start procedure. Laps behind the safety car will be counted as race laps, which may not please fans who might have to watch a long procession before an actual start (to a shortened race) takes place.
In our first piece in the 2017 regulation we detailed the sport's shift to bigger, wider tyres for 2017. The compounds for the first four races (Australia, China, Bahrain and Russia) have been announced by supplier Pirelli and under normal circumstances these announcements would be followed by the release of the drivers' individual set choices for those weekends.
However, owing to the long lead times in compound choice for 'flyaway' races (15 weeks) and the short amount of testing time available with new tyres and new cars, that process has been suspended for the first five events of the 2017 season.
Instead, Pirelli will allocate two sets of the hardest compound specification, four sets of the medium compound specification and seven sets of the softest compound specification to each driver.
There's also been a slight tweak to the rules governing the so-called P1-40 set. Each team's tyre choices are only allowed to be used for the first 40 minutes of the opening practice session. Should the session be stopped during this period, the time duration of the stoppage will be added to the 40 minute period.
After much protest from either side about driver helmet colour (you're either for a single always recognisable design or for free expression), the rules surrounding driver helmets have been loosened slightly. This year the Sporting Regs state: 'In order for drivers to be easily distinguished from one another whilst they are on the track, the helmet of each driver must, with the exception of one event of the driver's choice, be presented in substantially the same livery at every Event during a Championship season.' That's clear as mud then – one outright change but subtle tweaks have also, it seems, been given the thumbs up.