Lot’s of talk, diagrams but what do we really know about 2017 cars?

The discussions over the 2017 cars in Formula 1 are in full swing with lots of graphics explaining fat tires, wider wings and high diffusers etc. That’s all perfectly fine and I can understand the nerdish interest in getting into the weeds over speculative and well-informed diagrams accompanied by claims said confidently enough to imply accuracy.

I’m no engineer and certainly no pundit with a copy of CAD in which to speculate through super cool diagrams. What I do know is this…the 2017 cars are intended to bring back more grip, increase top-line speed and look more aggressive.

The task taken by the teams and the F1 Strategy Group are surely more self-serving than F1 serving, no? Let’s be honest, was anyone asking for a massive increase in downforce? Let’s be fair, is there any other way to get the kinds of speed and cornering grip demand without ramping up the aerodynamics as the least expensive way to achieve this level of performance?

The black art of aerodynamics will, for the time being, be the default element in F1’s evolution. It has been for years now and has the best ROI available versus other radical changes to chassis, mechanical grip, wheel size and powertrain overhauls. Titanium-induced sparks, fat tires, aggressive looks—these are all bits and baubles applied to F1 to make it look like something from the past but much of it isn’t a show-spicing derivative of some innovative move forward.

I don’t want to get sideways with F1 here but what I do know is what Auto motor und Sport revealed in their interview of Force India technical director, Andy Green. The changes that will be most prevalent really boil down to what the teams wanted in the first place, more aero downforce, period. Regardless of fat tires, hybrid power and sparks, the real answer to the demand for faster lap times was simply, bring back the aero.

Green says that the 2017 cars will feature 20 to 25 percent more downforce at the beginning of the year and by the end of the season, 30 to 35 percent! That’s massive! When you couple that with an increase in drag of only 5 to 10 percent due to the fat tires, we are looking at a potential for a wild, wild west scenario of aerodynamic shootout at high noon at the Albert Park coral.

Green reckons that the lap times will fall at some circuit by as much as 3-4 seconds and less at other because depending on the track and corner profiles. Weight transfer is reduced due to the increased grip level. The advantage Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have is that they built test cars for the 2017 specs and will have an understanding of how the tire pressures rate, what the stopping power will be and perhaps how to design their bak ducts according to the heat generated etc. Other teams will be guessing at that in the first part of the season.

As far back as last fall, Pirelli were very vocal about needing serious testing and they were awarded that test program to ensure their tires for 2017 could handle the changes. When you suggest that the cars will gain 30 to 35% more downforce, you can understand why Pirelli were concerned about their tire and one of the lingering issue will surely be the tire pressures the Italian company mandates for these new tires.

When we look at the chassis, it will have lower rear wings and higher diffusers as well as more fuel, it will be interesting to see how the team package all of this for the lowest center of gravity and the length of the chassis as well.

An interesting conundrum will be the massive increase in downforce on the rear of the car and finding balance in the chassis. For that, Green says the front wing is not enough so the front and side of the chassis will have more aerodynamic areas of development in order to increase the quality of the flow backwards across the chassis and achieve a balance. The space in front of the side pods has been restricted for years but now it will be open for innovative way to control the flow of air.

So what will we get in 2017? It’s difficult to say beyond what we think it will look like and each team will have an interpretation within the set of regulations. I suspect Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari will be leading the chassis performance category come Australia but you never know because when the rules are changed, some team find trick designs that press the limit of the regulations—Brawn GP 2009 for instance.

Hat Tip: Auto Motor Und Sport