Formula 1’s stable regulations may mean that teams can carry over much of their 2015 design concepts for the new season – but there is one area that has delivered a bigger challenge than usual over the winter.
For, what on the outside at first appeared to be a minor change to the rules to improve driver head protection, has actually resulted in a lot of extra legwork for designers – and a much tougher crash test to pass.
For 2016, the side protection area around the cockpit has been raised by 20mm to help deliver a bit more coverage of a driver's helmet.
While that dimension change is not much and will be barely noticeable to the naked eye, what has proved to be a hurdle is the fact that the crash test in this area has increased dramatically.
Whereas last year a load of 15kN was applied at a 90-degree angle to ensure this part of the car did not deform, for 2016 a revised rule states that the force has been ramped up to 50kN.
As Article 18.5 of F1’s Technical Regulations states: “Under the load, there must be no structural failure of the inner or outer surfaces of the survival cell.
“This test must be repeated at positions 50mm and 150mm forward of the rear edge of the cockpit opening template longitudinally.”
Whereas last year’s big challenge on the crash tests was in getting the short nose concepts to pass, this winter the hurdle has been in passing the tougher cockpit test.
As Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe explained, it has been a far from straightforward challenge to create the tougher cockpit protection without it being too heavy or impacting on aerodynamic performance.
“It is a very significant increase,” he said in a video released by his Mercedes team. “It is five tonnes of load that the chassis has to take sideways.
“It is intended to significantly increase the protection for the drivers should major pieces of debris, including a whole car, arrive at this point [of the cockpit].”
He added: “It has been a big job for the people concerned with designing chassis, because it is a very significant load increase.
“It is a matter of how you do it with the minimum intrusion to weight or aerodynamic surface. As always, everything is possible – it is how you do it in the best way.”
It is little wonder then that the teams which have already passed the crash test - well-ahead of cars hitting the track at Barcelona on February 22 - are feeling a major sense of relief.