Sport Motorsport Brave new world: Inside F1’s car changes

Brave new world: Inside F1’s car changes

Sebastian Vettel
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Sweeping changes in Formula One will be put to the test at Melbourne’s opening race in this year’s World Championship on March 16.

Gone are the V8 engines in use for the past seven seasons, replaced by a new, greener ‘power unit’. They will have to complete races of up to 300km on 100kg of fuel (about 130 litres). The power unit will comprise the new, 1.6 litre turbocharged V6 and an electric motor, which will give the car a substantial boost.

Stay with us here: up until recently, slowing down using the brakes meant the energy produced was thrown away as heat. Now, that energy is partly converted to electricity, stored in batteries or capacitors and drawn on when drivers want a bit of extra speed, with some limits on for how long and when in the race. The stored energy will supplement the fuel (it’s a bit more than just ‘petrol’) which is deliberately not quite enough to do a full race. And at the end of the race, they have to keep at least a litre of fuel in the car for testing for compliance with the rules.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen tries the new car. Photo: Getty

Then there’s another electric motor, powered by waste heat again, this time from the turbocharger. This energy can be used when and how the driver (or more likely his engineer) wishes.

As to how the cars will sound – they will possibly be a bit quieter (that’s not to say quiet), due to the turbocharger which, as it is part of the exhaust system, acts as a kind of muffler. But they’ll still be loud. Checking on-line footage from the first day of testing, in Spain, the cars sound a bit raspier to me – less the shriek of the previous cars – but that could change.

You might notice the cars don’t look the same as the past few years. As a lifelong motor racing fan, I’ll put my hand up and say the last few years, the cars have been a bit on the aesthetically-challenged side. This year’s cars are ugly. U.G.L.Y. Mostly the noses. They’ve been lowered, as a safety measure (in a front-to-side impact, the new nose is meant to go under the car being hit, to minimise the danger to the driver).  Different teams have taken different approaches to this, from just banging on the new nose, to adding a ‘modesty panel’ to hide the hideousness. Perhaps we’ll get used to it… Fan opinion is undivided, too – they’re eyesores.

Red Bull’s new RB10 and it’s ‘anteater’ nose. Photo: Getty

Then, adding insult to injury, come the aerodynamic devices, or wings. This year, the wings have to be narrower, meaning they can no longer use the front wing to deflect air around the front tyres as easily. So there are piles of winglets on top of the main part of the front wing to try to achieve this same end. And they look hideous, like a series of panicked last-minute additions.

Like last year, the tyres will be designed to degrade quickly, to ‘keep the racing interesting’. Add to this the fact the new and only lightly-tested engines – sorry, ‘power units’ – might have some teething troubles, and the results could very well be unpredictable. I still expect the cream to rise to the top – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, hopefully McLaren will be back to their best.

Australian interest will centre around Perth’s Daniel Ricciardo, this year replacing Mark Webber at Red Bull. Ricciardo is much less intense and focused, seemingly, than Webber, but I’m sure there’s a steely determination under that facade.

After one day of testing, Ferrari were on top, but don’t read too much into that. Many cars did not complete much in the way of mileage, concentrating on other matters than speed. Teams also like to try to play games in testing, rather than give away too much of a hint as to their potential. Melbourne’s race will be instructive.

Jenson Button gets to grips with the McLaren. Photo: Getty