As we get ready for the start of the 2018 Formula 1 season, we need to consider what’s changed in the rule book this year that has forced teams to respond over the summer break. Its how teams respond to these technical regulation changes that will determine who’s on the top step of the podium this year.
Like it or not, the halo is here
The single biggest visually altering change this year is the introduction of the new safety structure over the driver, known as the Halo. While many debates have been had regarding the merits of the safety vs appearance factors, the reality is, its here and we have to deal with it.
During practice sessions in 2017, teams tested the halo device at different tracks, particularly ones like Spa, to measure visibility. On the surface, having anything that blocks part of the driver’s view seems like an incredibly bad idea, it’s the greater risk of head impacts during an accident, or loose objects like wheels, that means it’s the better of two evils.
While its been proven the carbon fibre structure is incredibly strong and can withstand incredible forces, there’s no getting away from the fact that fans won’t and don’t like this. When it was tested, it was presented in a stark, black (or carbon) finish, but when the cars grid up in Melbourne in March, the teams will integrate their liveries making the halo feel more like an intentional element of the car’s design, rather than an aftermarket bolt-on.
There will be some scope for teams to modify the halo’s surface, which means we’re likely to see some innovation around aerodynamic gains (or reduction of drag) when these get finalised.
The figures in the drawing above indicate the impact forces, for those playing at home, the measurement is in kilonewtons. That’s the minimum force that the halo must withstand in each direction to pass the required FIA static load tests.
Something you may not have considered is the actual weight of the halo. The overall minimum weight of cars has gone up by 6kg to 734kg to compensate for the introduction of the halo, but it’s estimated that the actual impact of the device plus the mountings could be as much as 14kg.
Trick suspension outlawed
Last year teams including Red Bull and Ferrari innovated on suspension, using a small link in the front suspension connected to the upright, believed to cleverly allow the ride height of the car to be dynamically varied over the course of a lap, based on the steering angle from the driver.
The FIA has since decreed such systems will not be allowed. This one’s disappointing as it seems counter to overall goal of Formula 1 which is to driver engineering innovation and make cars perform better. Would the rest of the teams copied this design and the net gains be reduced to zero, maybe, but development never stands still and in this game, first mover advantage is huge.
Goodbye to T-wings and shark fins
No tears will be shed for the termination of the ugly T-wings. Whoever thought they were a good idea was poorly mistaken. Despite many different approaches, they were never an elegant piece of the car, often flexing like a bad coat hanger, completely out of place on a highly engineered F1 car racing at top-tier of motorsport.
As ugly as the T-wing was, it was used by the teams to better direct airflow to the main rear wing, and in some cases to create a little additional downforce. This is smart, but that’s definitely one the sport won’t look back on fondly.
Gone too are the shark-finned engine covers, which were actually a result of a 2017 loophole which thankfully has now been closed for season 2018.
2 new tyre compounds
Pirelli are bringing more rubber choices than ever to a F1 season, with a total of 7 to choose from. Teams will still need to nominate which compounds they will use at each round, ahead of time, but given the extra options available, they’re hoping it’ll make for more diverse races and maybe more pitstops.
Brand new for 2018 is a tyre that sits below the ultrasoft: an even softer compound called hypersoft, which is coloured pink and is the softest F1 tyre Pirelli has ever made. This new compound will be suitable for circuits where maximum mechanical grip is required, such as Monaco.
Ice blue also joins the roster in 2018, being the colour of the hard compound. This frees up orange to be used on the new superhard compound, denoting it as the very hardest choice available in Pirelli’s range.