For 2006 Formula One not only has some new faces and some swapping around of the old, it once again has a new batch of regulations. The most notable of these are V8 engines, the return of tyre changes and a new qualifying format. With the first...
For 2006 Formula One not only has some new faces and some swapping around of the old, it once again has a new batch of regulations. The most notable of these are V8 engines, the return of tyre changes and a new qualifying format. With the first race in Bahrain fast approaching, let's take a look at the main points to refresh our memories.
The FIA regulations state that engines must be 8 cylinders, with a 90 degree V configuration, and capacity must not exceed 2400cc. The permitted alternative is restricted-performance 2005 spec V10, where the crankshaft rotational speed is limited by the FIA.
By now we're all fairly familiar with the 2.4 litre V8 engine, at least to a certain extent. It's smaller than the V10 but despite the reduction in power as well as size, the drop in speed is not that significant, as we've seen with the recent winter test times. From a spectator perspective the difference will be negligible.
"In terms of the technical regulations, the switch from V10 to V8 engines is the biggest change," said BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen. "Along with all the other engine manufacturers, that is going to keep us on our toes beyond the start of the season. In the first grand prix races in particular, reliability will play a crucial role."
Toro Rosso is the only team using the restricted V10, which has provoked some mutterings of an alleged performance advantage. Alex Shnaider, boss of Toro Rosso's direct rival MF1, has been the most vocal but the FIA appears unmoved by any complaints. The FIA has the power to change the restrictions on the V10 within 24 hours if necessary.
As last year, one engine must last for two consecutive races and should an engine need to be changed before the race that annoying 10 place grid demotion penalty is still in place.
Over the course of a race weekend each driver is permitted a maximum of seven sets of dry weather tyres with no more than two specifications. In addition, four sets of single-specification wet weather tyres and three of extreme wets are allowed per driver. Tyres (of the same specification) may be changed at any time during the race.
The impact of no tyre changes last season was evident, as we often saw drivers struggling to keep control on less than optimal rubber. The Michelin runners pretty much had the upper hand and Ferrari's downturn in competitiveness was, to a certain degree, due to a lack of grip from the Bridgestone tyres.
So how will tyre changes effect things like set up and strategy? "The car will be configured differently, we can be more aggressive in our set-ups if the tyres don't have to last for the whole race and we will be less worried about tyre wear in 2006," said Renault's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds.
"Conversely, problems like graining will become an issue once again. Finally, it has an impact on strategy. In 2006, I think we will see more pit-stops and more strategic variation, to take advantage of the performance gain from fitting new tyres."
This season Williams, Toyota and Super Aguri join Ferrari and MF1 as Bridgestone partners, while Renault, McLaren, Honda, BMW, Red Bull and Toro Rosso are with Michelin. 2006 will be Michelin's last year in F1; the French manufacturer announced in December that it disagreed with the proposed idea of a singe tyre supplier from 2008, and was fed up with constant rule changes.
Qualifying will start at 2pm* on Saturday with an open track for all cars to run as many laps as they wish. After 15 minutes the slowest six cars will have to drop out and their times will decide grid positions 22 to 17. The times of the remaining cars are reset and after a further 15 minutes the next six slowest are dropped and take grid positions 16 to 11.
The remaining 10 cars, with their previous times reset, will then all take part in the final session of 20 minutes. Their individual times will decide grid positions 10 to pole, the fastest being on pole position (in case anyone was uncertain).
During the first 40 minutes of qualifying the cars can be refuelled as often as required. Cars finishing outside the top 10 may be refuelled at any time between qualifying and the race (parc ferm? conditions still apply but tyre changes and refuelling are now permitted).
The top 10 cars must start the last 20 minute session with the same amount of fuel with which they intend to start the race. Fuel used in that session may be replaced before the start of the race. It's a system designed specifially to be irritating, I'm sure.
There was some concern that in the early stages of the last 20 minute session some drivers might run slowly to conserve fuel. Refuelling at the end of qualifying is allowed by an FIA-decided number of litres per lap, so if a driver uses less than the FIA figure it could, arguably, amount to a race advantage.
To close the loophole the FIA has instated a '110% rule'. Any lap time a driver sets which is outside 110% of his own fastest lap will not count towards the fuel credit.
Really we're just going to have to wait and see how this qualifying system works out. In theory the knockout idea is fairly straightforward but on track it could get lost in translation somewhere. For the spectators it should be more interesting to watch than the previous single flying lap format.
If they can't figure out what's going on they're in good company. "I have looked at the schedule and still don't understand it," said MF1's Christijan Albers in regard to the new system. "We'll put the tyres on and do the best lap we can."
Friday practice sessions -- Thursday in Monaco -- remain the same, with an hour each in the morning and afternoon but Saturday has changed slightly. Instead of two 45 minute sessions on Saturday morning there will be one hour of practice starting at 11am* local time. Saturday qualifying and the Sunday race will commence at 2 pm* local time.
*Times vary slightly in different countries; see the FIA website (www.fia.com) for the official timetable.