With just over a week until the 2007 season kicks off at the Australian Grand Prix, it's time for a quick review of the regulation changes for this year as far as race weekends are concerned. Engines and tyres are the usual culprits but there...
With just over a week until the 2007 season kicks off at the Australian Grand Prix, it's time for a quick review of the regulation changes for this year as far as race weekends are concerned. Engines and tyres are the usual culprits but there are one or two tweaks to the likes of safety car periods and Friday practice sessions.
Due to the FIA's homologation rules, the 2.4 litre V8 engines used in the last two races of 2006 have been 'frozen' and will remain so until 2010. However, some limited modifications are permitted under FIA-controlled guidelines, such as making sure the engine is integrated correctly, or exhaust systems.
Gilles Simon, head of Ferrari's engine department, explained what had been done in relation to the 056 engine while keeping it the same. "We were able to adapt it to the rev limits of 19,000 rpm," he said. "We have revised the combustion chamber, the valves, the crank shaft and the piston, to optimize the available output before arriving at the rpm limit."
Engines must still last for two events but that rule now only applies to Saturday and Sunday. Drivers can use a different engine on Friday if they so wish and save their race engine for the remainder of the weekend. The 10 place grid demotion penalty for an engine change (excluding Friday) remains in place.
The engine rule not applying to Fridays hopefully means that we'll see more action in practices but the rev limit may mean the opposite when Sunday comes around. Some drivers have reportedly said that the rev limit will be detrimental to overtaking and make races even more processional.
Bridgestone is the sole tyre manufacturer and will supply each team with two specifications of dry weather tyre for each race weekend. Tyre allowance is 14 sets per weekend, a maximum of four sets on Fridays and 10 for the remainder of the weekend. In dry conditions drivers must use at least one set of each specification of tyres during the race.
Having to use two different tyre specs has produced mixed opinions. Some drivers can't see the point of it, while others think it could be advantageous. That aside, it will be interesting to see how the previously Michelin-shod teams cope with the switch to Bridgestone and how everyone in general adapts to less grip on standard tyres.
"It is obvious that the cars are going to slide around more, and so it was important for us to build a car that is easy to drive and that our drivers can trust sufficiently to go on the attack," said BMW Sauber technical director Willy Rampf. "We should also expect the cars generally to run with slightly more downforce in order to compensate for the loss of grip."
The FIA has also made a late addition to the tyre rules so that the different specifications ('hard' and 'soft') must be "visibly distinguishable" when the car is on track. It's not yet known how Bridgestone will do this but a white circle on the softer compound is thought to be a possibility.
Changes to the safety car regulations mean that drivers can no longer go into the pits immediately after the safety car appears. The pack must be lined up behind the safety car before any driver can make a pit stop. In normal conditions a 10 second penalty will be imposed on any driver that enters the pits before the pit lane is officially open.
Any lapped cars mixed up in the order of those on the leading lap must pass those cars, and the safety car, and make their way to take up their correct position at the back. The reasons for these changes are to prevent drivers making a mad dash for the pits and to make sure backmarkers don't get in the way of the leaders when the safety car goes in.
Third cars are no longer permitted on Fridays. Teams may run a test driver in one of the two cars allowed but must nominate them beforehand. Some teams have previously said that they will probably use testers on a Friday but there's a bit of a debate that it could be a disadvantage to either testers or racers, depending who gets the track time.
Friday practices will now be one and a half hours each, the morning session from 10.00 am (local time) until 11.30 am and the afternoon from 2 pm until 3.30 pm. (Practice day in Monaco is Thursday.)
Saturday practice remains as a one hour session and will take place from 11 am until 12.00 noon. Qualifying retains the same format as last year (three knockout sessions) and will take place from 2 pm until 3 pm. Sunday race start is 2 pm.
Note: Saturday practice and qualifying start at 10 am and 1 pm respectively in Canada, the United States and Great Britain. Sunday race times vary in certain countries; check the FIA website, www.fia.com, for further details.