Analysis: Will Newey find the loopholes in the 2017 F1 rules?
As Formula 1 heads to new era of aero regulations in 2017, will one team find a silver bullet opening in the rules that helps them gain an edge? Adam Cooper wonders if Red Bull's Adrian Newey could do just that.
He may have taken a step back from the day-to-day business of designing and engineering F1 cars, but Adrian Newey remains one of Red Bull Racing's great assets.
He has always been a thinker, exploring new concepts and looking for ways of pushing the rules to the maximum. His current role allows him the opportunity to take in the bigger picture, and provide valuable input to the crack technical team that he built up around him over the past decade.
The 2017 F1 regulations, which represent the biggest change the sport has seen in years, are right up Newey's street.
Over the years he's made no secret of his frustration at the lack of freedom that designers are allowed these days, but new rules always present a fresh challenge, and a chance to do a better job than others.
"I do enjoy regulation changes, because the idea is then to understand the effect of those regulation changes better than your competitors," he said at the recent Autosport International show.
"Perhaps there are new opportunities, perhaps there are things in the rules where what the rules say and what they intend are not the same thing. Luckily there's no such thing as the intention of the regulations, you only have to go to the letter, and sometimes there are loopholes that you can find..."
Many observers believe that if anyone has identified and exploited any such loopholes in the new regulations, it will be Newey. So what does the man himself think of F1, 2017-style?
"A mixed bag in some ways, or mixed feelings. The extra downforce certainly is a big chunk, and that means quick corners such as Copse at Silverstone will now be flat even in the race.
"Fast corners now, some of them are simply bends on the straight rather than fast corners, a bit like Eau Rouge used to be a mighty corner, but now it's really a bend on the straight.
"Cars will therefore be more physical to drive, which I think is a good thing. Principally of course on the neck muscles, so the drivers are all doing a lot of training over the winter to get even bigger necks! But equally even with the seats the drivers have to brace themselves a bit through the quick corners.
"The braking forces will also be higher. What that does to overtaking is a little bit of a concern. It means braking distances will be very short. Yes, of course you can sort it out with DRS.
"I don't know what other people's opinions are, but to me DRS is a solution of getting cars to overtake each other, but it's not memorable – a DRS overtake is not a memorable event.
"It helps, because it does mean that you can get changes in the order, but if it gets to the point where it detracts from drivers just finding a way past in the old way, I think that's a shame.
"The overtakes that we remember are the really ballsy ones. Mark Webber taking Fernando into Eau Rouge, a few years ago. That was a shame, because it was a very brave and well executed overtaking move, but straight away it was reversed on the following straight by Fernando having the DRS."
It's not just braking distances that will have an impact. Many are concerned that high downforce will make it even harder for drivers to follow each other, and thus get in a position to overtake.
"It's a very tricky question, this whole debate of 'should cars have lots of downforce, possibly to the detriment of racing, or should we take all the wings off and go back to where they used to be'?
"I think certainly if you take too much downforce off, then they will look slow. If you watch touring cars – at the risk of being controversial here – but if you watch a touring car going round on its own, it's not very exciting to watch. So the cars do need to be quick. Television has the effect of slowing everything down."
The good news is that the cars will look better, and not just because wide tyres are back.
Newey is a purist at heart – he indicates that cars will have the proportions of such as the classic 1992 Williams he designed – and if that's the case, most fans will be happy.
"It's not as big a regulation change and therefore a visual change as we had for the 2009 season. But it is still a big change.
"The cars are wider, and we've been through a bit of a styling thing where all the aerodynamic surfaces, the front wing, the sidepods, are deliberately set rearwards to give the illusion of speed that stylists like.
"Whether people like or it not... I think it does look good. The narrow track, narrow tyre cars I think always have looked slightly odd, particularly with the higher rear wing. So it's trying to reverse that trend, make the cars look good, and as I say, more physical to drive."
Although the rule changes have put a focus on tyres and aero, Newey points out that power unit performance will have a greater impact than in the recent past, simply because drivers are flat out for more of the lap.
"It certainly means power is more important because we all have so much grip, then the percentage of full throttle per lap goes up. So the amount of time that you're actually grip limited as opposed to power limited is less."
The bad news is that Newey expects the grid to be more spread out this year, because some teams will have extracted more from the new regulations than their rivals, who will then play catch up. That won't help the show, at least in the short term.
"The danger with the rules we have going into this year is that initially it'll probably widen the grid, simply because when you have a big regulation changes, some people read it better than others.
"The bigger teams obviously have more research capability, so they stand to make a better job of a big change than the smaller teams, although that's not always the case.
"But the grid is likely to be wider apart. It might mean a bit more open racing, let's say, before people start to converge as everybody homes in on one solution over the years."
Newey says that engine partner Renault has made a step for 2017, but no doubt Mercedes has too. It's thus up to RBR to close the gap, and with Newey's input the Milton Keynes team clearly has a chance to extract just enough from the rule changes to make the difference.
Will the RB13 incorporate ideas that other teams have to follow? It will be fascinating to find out.
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