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Insight: How F1 teams will approach 2016 and shift focus onto new 2017 cars

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Insight: How F1 teams will approach 2016 and shift focus onto new 2017 cars
Jan 28, 2016, 12:24 PM

As we count down the days to the new car launches and the start of pre-season testing, it's timely to consider how the F1 teams will be approaching...

As we count down the days to the new car launches and the start of pre-season testing, it's timely to consider how the F1 teams will be approaching this season, which is likely to be somewhat unusual, given the huge rule changes coming for 2017.

The rules for this season are broadly as they were last year, but the 2017 rules look set to be quite different. At this stage they are not 100% confirmed, the teams and regulators are still fine tuning them. The final version will have to be ratified by the end of March. But the teams know the broad brushstrokes now.

Despite the fact that (sadly) plans have been watered down somewhat from the the original intention of making the cars much more dramatic to look at and up to five seconds per lap faster, engineers are still saying that this looks like the biggest change on the chassis side since 2009.

Ferrari F1

What that means for the teams is that they will have to throw significant resources at developing their 2017 car and some teams will decide to switch over from developing the 2016 car in to the 2017 car quite early. The wealthier teams have an advantage in one sense; they are able to spend on both cars at the same time.

However, the big difference compared to the way the teams approached this for 2009 is that now strict wind tunnel and CFD restrictions are in place, which effectively means that all teams, rich and poor, have only 2.5 weeks per month that they can use those tools. So they can't just throw money at it, running extensive parallel tunnel programmes, they have to be very careful about where they place their effort in wind tunnel and CFC. It creates a bottleneck.

So it is something of a leveller; there is a chance that in the second half of the season a well organised midfield team will close on a struggling top team that has thrown its effort into 2017. A team like Force India could have a very strong end to the season, for example.

While one can imagine that Renault, having bought the rump of the Lotus team and in the process of restructuring with a switch from Mercedes to Renault engines and hiring new staff, will treat 2016 as an interim season to be got through, while the real effort goes into 2017.

It raises some real challenges for the new Haas F1 team, that will be learning the ropes, going racing and establishing its processes and procedures, developing their first car at the same time as having to develop a totally new one for 2017. They have the advantage that they use Ferrari's wind tunnel and can rely on help and advice in that technical collaboration. But it will make for a hectic year!

Mercedes

The real question is what happens at the front of the grid? The first four races will be decisive here. If Ferrari is close to Mercedes and taking wins and poles from them, then both teams will be locked in a struggle and will have to juggle 2016 and 2017 objectives in the second half of the year.

If Mercedes is still dominant Ferrari will have to take a view as we approach the summer. So we have to hope that it is close from the outset. Mercedes will certainly be hoping it can get through by managing its advantage this year, losing ground perhaps towards the end, while they work on 2017. But it is to be hoped that Ferrari put more pressure on them than that. Jock Clear's arrival as head of track operations engineering at Ferrari means that technical director James Allison will be able to focus more on 2017 at the factory, rather than fly around the world in 2016.

The other team to look out for here is Red Bull. They have an excellent record of developing their car; 2015 was a prime example of that, whereby they probably had the best chassis by the second half of the season. With similar chassis rules in 2016, any major gains on the engine - and surely they will come - will move Red Bull close to the action. Then in the second half of the season, they could be worth keeping an eye on.

Red Bull F1

As we mentioned in an earlier post, we also need to keep an eye out in the eight days of testing in February and March for teams that have managed to gain any advantage from the new second exhaust pipe on the waste gate that has been introduced to increase the noise of the hybrid turbo engines, but which could give a performance advantage in aero terms in the hands of a skilled innovator.

The cut off point for throwing effort into the next season is usually the August shutdown, but we may see some teams switch before then and that will change the competitive picture of the 2016 season.

It will be fascinating to follow.

*Meanwhile Pirelli has called a meeting of the FIA, FOM and teams at its Milan headquarters to bottom out exactly what is needed from the tyre side in 2017 and, as they put it, "to discuss target tyre performance guidelines in the light of the 2017 regulations." This follows debate about the extent to which drivers should be able to push, which was amplified by comments from Bernie Ecclestone this week.

What do you think? Which teams to you have your eye on this season? Leave your comment in the section below
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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation