Revealed: New F1 start rules will be a "lot" harder for drivers

Formula 1 drivers will face a much greater challenge in getting away cleanly at the starts in 2017 thanks to new rules imposed by the FIA.

Revealed: New F1 start rules will be a "lot" harder for drivers

As part of an ongoing push by the governing body to reduce 'driver aids', there have been a number of restrictions imposed to reduce the influence of engineers in race starts.

Initially that began with limits on radio communications and clutch bite points, and last year that expanded to limiting drivers to using a single clutch paddle.

A potentially even more radical step is in force this season, though, thanks to new limits on clutch control, plus the movement and location of the paddles themselves.

Linear torque

These changes have been addressed to teams in FIA Technical Directives sent to F1 teams over the winter to inform them on what the FIA viewed as illegal driver aids.

The biggest change comes in how the paddle on the steering wheel now controls the clutch – because there has to be a linear torque control.

Beforehand, there was no linear demand. So, it was possible for an engineer to map the settings in a way that most of the movement on the steering wheel paddle would be in the clutch's 'sweet spot'.

As Kevin Magnussen explained: "You just had to release it between 10 percent and 80 percent.

"Somewhere in there was a flat map that would be set to the grip, the tyres and fuel loads. So the start was 100 percent up to the engineers before. But now it is completely down to us."

Sweet spot

Being able to drop the clutch paddle into this wide zone meant that, as long as the engineers had mapped things correctly, then the starts were pretty straightforward.

But now with linear settings, if a driver wants to hit the perfect spot for the clutch he has to find the exact place with the clutch paddle on the wheel.

Being a centimetre out either way could be the difference between bogging down or getting too much wheelspin.

Sauber's Pascal Wehrlein said: "Now we have a situation like in a normal road car. As a driver you have to find the bite point completely by yourself.

"Before, you discussed it with the engineer. It was more down to the engineer whether the set-up was okay and the clutch was biting correctly. Now you do it with your hand and you don't have any adjustment possibility anymore."

Paddle spacing

 

Mercedes W07 steering wheel paddles distance
Mercedes W07 steering wheel paddles distance

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

There are further limitations about the clutch paddle design that will make things harder too.

To prevent teams putting devices behind the steering wheel to help a driver feel where the right clutch spot should be, there are now exclusion zones in place.

Teams have been told that there must be a 50mm gap between the clutch paddle and any other control on the wheel.

The only exception to the 50mm gap is if teams put in place a stop mechanism that restricts a drivers' hand from feeling elsewhere, something Mercedes and Force India are understood to have done.

Furthermore, there is a maximum limit of movement for the clutch paddle of 80mm.

Without the 80mm limit, teams would have been tempted to allow excessive movement of the clutch paddles to try to help make it easier for drivers find the perfect spot.

 

Ferrari SF16-H steering wheel clutch movement
Ferrari SF16-H steering wheel clutch movement

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Massive change

The early feedback, from practice starts at Barcelona testing this week, suggests drivers are in for a pretty harsh wake-up call when it comes to getting away cleanly in 2017.

Wehrlein said: "The starts will be very difficult for the drivers, by the way. You can have a bit of luck and get a good start, but you can also have bad luck and you get a very poor getaway."

When asked how much harder it was going to be, Magnussen said: "A lot. Last year wasn't hard. You just had to release it past 10 percent and before 90 percent. It was easy.

 

"Last year you could have a bad start but that was down to the engineer not having the torque right or the clutch, or not calculating the grip right. And obviously you can react quickly to lights last year as well, that made a difference. Except for that, there wasn't much that was down to you really.

"As I say now, it is all down to you to find the right amount of clutch torque for the grip so that you are on the limit of wheelspin as early as possible. But it is very difficult."

Magnussen suggested that the perfect start would now become a rarity, as he predicted much bigger variation up and down the grid.

"Yes, definitely," he said. "I think we will see some guys getting a massive one and gaining loads of positions, and other ones losing out massively. I think there will be some spread."

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Series Formula 1
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