McLaren brilliantly illustrates the F1 2017 rule changes

    The 2017 season of Formula 1 will deliver some of the most substantial changes to the category since the introduction of the hybrid powerplant. The cars will look and sound different that ever before and with new regulations, each team had to engage their engineering talent to not only meet the new rules, but to beat the competition in delivering better performance.

    The aim of the FIA in changing the rules was to make the cars look more aggressive and faster mechanically, so that F1 remains the pinnacle of motorsport in terms of outright speed, and to make them more difficult to drive by reducing aerodynamic downforce. That reliance on downforce in recent years has meant the cars a heavily dependent on clean air to get passes done and the disturbed air from a car in front means a pass is often not possible.

    Tim Goss is the technical director at McLaren-Honda’s and has detailed the rule changes that affect tyres, aerodynamics, wings, diffuser and engines.


    This year the tyres are wider, much wider, with tread width up from 24.5 to 30cm at the front and from 32.5 to 40 at the rear. Expectations are that the cars will be around three seconds per lap quicker, however Goss says,

    “Understanding what the tyres are actually going to do has been a huge challenge.



    With new tyres, traditional data is basically irrelevant with lap times, wear rates, grip, cornering speeds and even braking points all have to be reset for each circuit.

    “Pirelli ran a very intensive test programme during 2016 to develop the new tyres, with the support of three teams. They got lots of mileage under their belts throughout 2016, and all that data has been provided to all the other teams. But, from all of that testing, trying to piece together what we think the tyres are going to do in terms of performance, degradation, thermal stability etc, that’s still quite challenging.

    Goss went on to say its still quite difficult to understand tyre behaviour, even if you go track-testing. The 2016 tyre development cars won’t behave in the same way as the 2017 cars.

    What we’re trying to do is identify which areas of performance are attached to the tyre and which to the mule car. That’s a major challenge.



    While the tyres are easily the most visible and obvious change, the changes to aerodynamics creates the biggest headaches for F1 R&D departments.

    Goss says,

    “The aerodynamic changes have been another challenge. A lot of the flow structures and physics on the car are fundamentally the same, how the flow is established at the front of the car and then travels back down the car, starts off in a fairly similar way to last year.

    Now what you’ll find is that, in the detail, things start to behave differently, which prompts you to change direction. The 2017 cars will look pretty similar to the layman, but the aero guys have been battling to correct flow-structures at different ride heights for months and months now. We’ve had to rethink lots of different areas on the car, because they’re behaving differently to how they did before.”


    In 2017, the front end nose of the car is 20cm longer than in 2016, while the width of the front wing increases from 165cm to 180cm. The wing’s new shape means the distance between the front tyre and the endplate remains unchanged, as does the endplate size, while the rear wing grows wider up from 80cm to 95cm, will increase in overhang and be lower that the 2016 spec.

    “The track width has gone out by 100mm per side – so the cars are wider. And because of that increased width, the front wing has also grown wider. And it’s now swept back in plan-view.

    “The rear wing is also wider and lower – which helps make the whole car look lower and wider. And there are some visual styling cues that have been introduced: the rear is swept back in side-view, and the sidepod intakes are angled in plan-view. It’s definitely a ‘meaner’ look.

    “And there’s a detail in the rear-wing endplate regulations; they step in – and that curviness is another styling feature that adds to the general ‘aura’ around the new shape.”


    An area we’re likely to see far more differences between manufacturers is in bargeboards. There’s a lot more freedom in this space and they can be much larger than before allowing decisions to be made about the flow of air into the sidepods vs over the rear of the vehicle to create downforce.

    “you’ll probably see that every team has done a lot of detailed work in that area. In the 2016 regulations, the scope for bargeboard development was quite small. Now we can run them to the full height of the chassis, they can go a lot further forward and sit wider outboard. We can also stack devices within that area – so you’ll see a lot more complication in that area, a little like we saw in previous regulatory eras.”

    Flood and Diffuser

    With the body getting wider in 2017, so has the size of the floor which increases aerodynamic load.

    “The most significant change in this area is the rear diffuser. It’s longer and higher – and that will create a lower pressure in the centre of the floor and create more downforce. The 2017 diffuser now starts earlier and goes to a higher height. It previously started at the rear-axle centre-line, it’s now 170mm further forward, around halfway towards the leading edge of the tyre. Last year, the height was 125mm above the reference plane, and it’s now 175mm.”


    One of the biggest pain points in F1 was the pretty frustrating and flawed token system. These tokens were spent when teams replaced or upgraded engine components. With the complex hybrid engines, there’s many components and as we seen with a number of drivers, they exceeded the allowed limit of tokens which then resulted in grid spot penalties. This meant the starting positions felt artificially impacted.

    This also hurt the teams ability to innovate and implement new components which doesn’t deliver the cutting edge developments and breakthroughs the category is designed to deliver. Originally implemented to keep costs down, it ended up hurting the racing and the category.

    “The token system that was applied to engine development for the past few seasons has been discontinued. For 2017, the Honda engine architecture and layout have been altered to serve both for performance and packaging needs.

    “The new power unit takes much of the learning from the past two seasons, but has been specifically redesigned for this season.”


    The drivers say these new cars will be more challenging to drive, which redistributes the balance between teams and drivers, back to a higher focus on driver ability.

    “One knock-on from that is that we’ll no longer classified some corners as ‘corners’. What we mean by that is that engineers define a corner as a point on the track where the driver has to lift and essentially drive and handle the car through it; if he’s going round a bend, and his foot is flat to the floor on the accelerator, we class that as a straight.

    As the new cars will be going faster, some of 2016’s ‘corners’ will be classified as ‘straights’. But because they’ll be going through them faster, they’ll be subjected to more g-forces – and that’s still tiring on the body.”


    More information at

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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