So I have been listening and reading lots of pre-season stuff and unsurprisingly most of it talks about engines and aerodynamics. 2014 sees the biggest change in the regulations in over 20 years with a completely new power train (the new word for engine this year!) alongside significant aerodynamic modifications. Here’s the highlights of what’s going to be different once the wheels start turning in Melbourne in a few weeks time:
The “Finger” Nose
Once again the new regulations have created less than beautiful cars, after the banning of the wide wings in 2008 and the diffuser rules being fully tightened in 2010 teams have slowly sought to get their chassis height higher and higher to increase airflow to the rear of the car. This lead to safety concerns that a driver could be speared by a nose if it was the height of the car and also it increases the likelihood of cars getting airborne in crashes (Mark Webber in Valencia anyone?). Therefore after the ugly stepped noses of 2012 and the attempt to cover them up in 2013 with “vanity panels” the rules in 2014 attempted to return the cars to the sleek low noses by lowering the bulkhead (where the chassis meets the nose cone – That thing that Lotus will be changing with alarming regularity this season) by 10cm and stipulating that the nose has to end much lower. However that part of the nose can be any shape and only has to be a minimum of 10 square cm. This has lead to teams doing one of 3 things, Ferrari have created a big lolloping front to the car while the majority of other teams have a more elegant nose with then a small mini “finger” nose protruding out the front. Meanwhile Lotus have been clever and made some tusks, one longer to count as the end of the nose balanced by a slightly shorter second tusk. There could be a few more innovative designs in the coming week. Coupled with this strange new appendage is a slightly narrower front wing, which you will now notice ends in the middle of the tyres, in contrast to inside the tires prior to 2008 and at the end of the tires recently.
The changes at the rear of the car have been significant aerodynamically, gone is the lower beam wing and the beautifully named “monkey seat” and in their place is a single exhaust exit pointed 5 degrees up with a restriction on placing anything behind the exit. Therefore gone is the exhaust blowing, even if teams were going to try and use it alongside the most complicated engines in the history of the sport. Furthermore the rear wing has been made shallower reducing the down force it generates. This has all lead to a major reduction in down force compared to what Red Bull (the masters of rear down force recently) were achieving last year, so much that they allowed the cars to run with a lot of rake (i.e. the rear is higher than the front) to balance the huge amount of rear down force and get the front closer to the ground. All this is a problem because….
Leaving engines and the difficulties of them aside for this post, the biggest change with the engines is going to be the torque. Painfully lacking from the 2.8Litre V8 engines the new V6 Turbo’s will be torque machines, meaning drivers are going to have to look after that throttle pedal a heck of a lot more because if you floor it coming out of a corner your going to be facing the way you came pretty quickly. This huge amount of torque (created by the electrical side of the new power unit as the energy has already been generated and is sitting waiting to be deployed) is going to make the loss of rear down force all the more noticeable. We’re really hoping that this will count in skilled drivers favour.
Another huge change created by this regulations that hasn’t been discussed all that much is going to be the gearbox. With all the extra torque the engine will produce the teams will now have an 8th gear to deal with it, but this comes at a price. The new rules no longer allow for gear ratio changes (you’re allowed to make one change after the start of the season so you can correct it if you get it a little wrong) meaning that engines will be the same wherever we go, meaning that teams will have to compromise how best to run their cars over the season. Additionally the engineers can no longer tune the car into each circuit meaning the drivers will have to judge their use of power even more. Expect to see the drivers attempting Monaco using only 4 gears and dealing with the resulting torquey beast around the streets of the principality in the same engine setup that will tackle Monza.
Reliability and Chaos
In the past few seasons driving for one of the back of the grid teams meant turning up and finishing around 18th/19th once Maldonado or Grosjean had punted a few people off over the race distance. This year there will not be a full grid finish that’s for sure! With such a complex change some team principles are predicting we could see only 50% of the grid go the full way in Melbourne. Furthermore with the new engines, power trains and gear restrictions there are going to be cars that are faster in certain parts than others. It could lead to one team getting it spot on and streaking off into the distance, but it could also see cars that are hard to handle, that breakdown, that lack enough down force to contain the power, that need to be nursed for fuel and could create some merry chaos….. here’s hoping eh!