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What to expect from 2017 rules

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 02-01-2017 skysports.com
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Another Formula 1 season has come and gone and all the teams' attention has turned to next season and its rules overhaul. 

Whether it be the aesthetics, noise, tyres, engines and even how the drivers will cope, here's what you can expect from Formula 1 in 2017.

So what will the cars look like?

In what is possibly the first time F1 has made aesthetics a central pillar of future regulations, 2017's cars are set to look more "aggressive" thanks to regulations to make them wider, heavier and run on fatter tyres. Wings will also be wider, with the rear wing lower than is currently the case.

F1 in 2017: A first look

"The cars are pretty good looking," Williams' chief technical officer Pat Symonds told Sky Sports F1 ahead of wind tunnel testing. "It looks like a proper racing car. It's got very big rear tyres on it and it doesn't look retro, which is a thing I was worried about."

Ferrari gave us a first look of the new design, fitting a wider front wing and rear wing to a mule car during their Pirelli tyre testing.

How much faster will the cars be?

The FIA claim substantial gains of over three seconds are expected in 2017 through the "aerodynamic rules evolution, wider tires and reduction of car weight".

The natural rate of F1 development already means the current 2016 cars are even faster than last year's, with track records set in Bahrain and Austria among others despite the smaller-capacity V6 engines, while Nico Rosberg's pole time at the Hungarian GP was more than two seconds under 2015's benchmark. It was a trend all season.

According to Mercedes' Toto Wolff, the 2017 cars "will be more difficult to drive" and "deploy much more G on the driver like in the past". That will please drivers like Fernando Alonso, who has been keen to experience the 'wow' factor in the sport once again.

"It's going in the right direction, we need to make the cars faster and the cars better," he said. "We just need the fastest cars to produce a good show."

Will overtaking improve? 

Here is the rub of the 2017 overhaul.

While the decrease in lap times and increase in downforce is likely to make the cars more challenging for drivers, few believe the changes will do anything to alleviate F1's overtaking issues - and some fear the age-old problem of cars being able to follow each other closely will only get worse.

"The truism is that the more downforce you've got on the car the more you're going to be affected by the wake of another car," said Symonds.

In terms of drivers not keen on more downforce, Lewis Hamilton perhaps put it most starkly: "I think we need more mechanical grip and less aero wake coming off the back of the cars so we can get close and overtake. Give us five seconds' worth of lap time from aero and nothing will change - we'll just be driving faster."

But there are also those who believe racing will improve next season. And it's not just Alonso at McLaren, team principal Eric Boullier has also given his backing.

"The car will generate more downforce from the tyres, mechanically, which should not hurt the overtaking numbers," he said. "Additionally, the influence of the front wing will be lower, since the floor and the diffuser will generate more downforce, allowing more overtaking.

"All this makes the car allow more overtaking manoeuvres, maybe by 5 per cent, as all current overtaking manoeuvres are driven by DRS and tyre regulations."

What's the plan with tyres?

With Formula 1 intent on increasing downforce, plans have long been in place to make the tyres wider to increase mechanical grip. The front tyres will be a 305mm-wide thread rather than the current 245mm, while rear tyres will be increased to a 405mm-wide thread from 325mm - around 25 and 30 percent wider than the current spec.

Pirelli were allocated 25 days testing with the new rubber, with Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes finishing off their allocated days following the Abu Dhabi GP. They will report their findings to the rest of the grid.

Along with the lighter cars and aerodynamic changes, tyres will play a key role in dropping lap times, while we may see less tyre wear next season too.

"Next year, the new cars will be four to five seconds faster and the tyres will contribute 2.5 seconds, demonstrating how important they are," Pirelli chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

What is happening with engines?

Despite some high-profile and persistent opposition to the hybrid turbos since their 2014 introduction - most notably from Bernie Ecclestone - the technology will remain in place until at least 2020.

Customer costs was one of the biggest issues when it came to engines and power unit supply costs will be reduced by 1m Euros in 2017 compared to this year's price and by a further 3m Euros in 2018.

In an effort to make the field more competitive, meanwhile, the engine token system will be scrapped from 2017 onwards and a boost pressure constraint will be introduced. Next year's rules will also limit drivers to four power units per season compared to this season's five in another cost-cutting approach, and one to perhaps add yet more unpredictability.

All teams have now confirmed their engine suppliers next season, but even if they hadn't, we wouldn't be seeing a repeat of Red Bull's 2015 issues. Any outfit who can not agree a power unit deal must be supplied by the manufacturer which supplies the least amount of teams, which is currently Honda, at a stipulated rate.

But concerns still linger, with Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn confirming that both her team and Force India expressed concerns to the sport's governing body about the deal.

Will they be louder?

Complaints from fans, and some drivers, over the quieter noise generated by the V6 engines has lingered for two years now and the FIA confirmed there would be "higher revving engines and increased noise".

A 'sound generator' which is not "purely natural" is also in the pipeline to crank up the volume, though it may not be introduced until 2018.

F1: Complete coverage

What else is new?

FIA race director Charlie Whiting has revealed that should the race start behind a Safety Car, as we saw in Monaco, Silverstone and Brazil this season, a standing restart once the SC comes back into the pits is under consideration.

And providing this rule is agreed by the teams, drivers will be prevented from making changes to their cars if the race is red-flagged.

What about the drivers?

We won't be covering the rumours and driver line-up changes for next year here, but Sky F1's Anthony Davidson's analysis on how the grid could be "turned on its head" is certainly an interesting scenario.

"Next year the cars are completely different," he said. They're going to be like big Formula 3 cars next year. I think you're going to see a shake-up in the drivers that perform now or don't perform now - things might turn around. They're going to be so different to drive that it will take different qualities from a driver.

Who's driving where in 2017?

"Let's take Sergio Perez; known for his qualities of looking after tyres, with the car slip-sliding around and he's great at keeping them alive during a long slippery stint. That might be eradicated next year, you might be able to lean on your tyres as much as you want through the whole race and you don't have to consider the tyre wear or the car moving around at all. You're going to be power limited rather than grip limited. The whole thing could be turned on its head.

"You might see someone like Sebastian Vettel who thrived in 2011, putting his foot down even before he's got to the apex of the corner. You're going to now have wider tyres at the back and loads more downforce and giving you that extra grip. A driver like him might find even more time than what he currently can."

Will we have head protection?

Despite changing many drivers' opinions at what Lewis Hamilton said was a "great briefing" at the Hungarian GP, F1's Strategy Group voted against the introduction of the Halo head protection device for 2017.

More tests will be carried out through practice sessions ahead of a possible 2018 introduction and the cockpit protection system remains a "strong option", despite claims that it affects visibility and is not aesthetically pleasing.

Sebastian Vettel says 95 per cent of drivers agreed on the Halo, a figure that has been contested, while most team bosses agreed that the FIA shouldn't rush into a crucial decision.

"The feeling with the halo is that there are some benefits but an awful lot of unanswered questions," Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky F1. "We can't just bolt on something which we all have very little experience of."

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