Times a-changing: will the significant technical alterations in F1 threaten Sebastian Vettel's dominance of the sport? photo: E.R.R

2014: a reboot for F1, or a disappointment?

This year, we will enter a completely new era of Formula One. The federation de l’automobile have turned the sport on its head, bringing a variety of regulation changes which will put both financial and mental pressure on all teams up and down the paddock as they struggle to come to terms with the colossal challenge ahead of them.

Questions were discussed furiously amongst F1 enthusiasts in 2013 – who would have the fastest cars? What would they look like? Would we have a new world champion this year? It is first important to consider in detail what the changes this year actually entail, and whether these will or will not favour a certain team.

First and foremost, the biggest change this year is the power unit. The recent era has seen the use of the 2.4 litre, naturally aspirated V8 with a seven speed semi-automatic gearbox, churning out almost 750 bhp at a limited 18,000-RPM.

However, in 2014, teams will be using a 1.6 litre turbocharged V6 engine with an eight speed semi automatic gearbox, known now as a ‘Power-train’ producing around 600 bhp at only 15,000-RPM.

Unquestionably, Formula 1 will see a significant reduction in power from the internal combustion engine alone. Gearbox ratios must also be fixed for the entire year, preventing shorter gearing being used for short tracks such as Monaco, and longer gearing for tracks such as Monza, which will heavily impact lap times.

Whereas the previous engine used KERS, a kinetic energy recovery system activated by the driver to provide an extra 80 bhp per lap, this year’s engines use a more powerful extensive energy recovery system known as ERS producing 160 horsepower.

Channelling lost kinetic energy from both the brakes and heat energy from the turbocharger, the system readies the turbo via the kinetic motor unit before a driver applies the throttle allowing for instantaneous power, effectively eliminating the notorious ‘Turbo lag’ which usually causes a delay.

The lower RPM also allows for a significant increase in torque, so keep your eyes peeled for a lot more power slides this year, especially for less experienced drivers. Whilst on the surface it seems like a significant reduction in power, Formula One has innovated hugely, paving the way for the future of both road cars and motorsport alike.

Secondly only to the huge changes in the engine, the FIA have also made significant changes to the aerodynamics. Diffusers in F1 cars slow the airflow passing from the front to the rear of the car down, allowing for greater suction to the track and greater down force.

In the past, teams used exhaust blown diffusers coupled with off throttle overrun to blow warm air underneath the diffusers, creating a greater amount of lower pressure at the rear of the car, increasing down force. When this was banned in 2011 by the FIA, teams subsequently used the coanda effect, again finding a way to exploit the regulations.

However, 2014 dictates the use of a single exhaust pipe exiting through the very rear of the car, preventing any such effect from occurring. Adrian Newey, a pioneer of this technology, used this to give Red Bull a significant advantage in previous years, meaning this is a major blow for them.

The FIA have also restricted the width of the front wing for 2014 to 1.65 metres. Not only will this disrupt the airflow, creating greater drag, but also it has reduced the wing’s surface area greatly, significantly reducing down force. The height of the nose has also been lowered, restricting airflow underneath the car. As seen in Jerez this week, many teams have decided to adopt what is being called the ‘Anteater’ nose named after the animal with a long, thin snout. This satisfies regulations whilst allowing teams to ensure for maximum airflow underneath the car and to the rear diffuser, generating more down force, albeit being described unanimously as ugly. Noticeably, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull have all adopted a different approach to all other teams, albeit all being similar to each other. Coincidence?

Formula One has innovated hugely, paving the way for the future of both road cars and motorsport alike

The final main aero change is perhaps the removal of the rear wing beam. This also allowed for increased down force and helped to funnel air towards the rear diffuser. Other changes include the use of an electronic braking system to aid in energy recovery, as well as a rule stating exactly where cameras on the car must be mounted to prevent aerodynamic advantage. Whilst the previous era’s cars produced roughly 2500 KG of down force(as much as a small elephant) we could see a significant reduction, with much of development during the year going to be focused on clawing as much back as possible.

In addition, the FIA have introduced tighter rules that are likely to be a thorn in the side of reliability. Drivers are now required to use no more than 100 kg of fuel for the entire race, down from 150 kg from the previous years. This is going to require heavy fuel management throughout the race, and really begs the question whether Formula One has become too soft, with drivers having to purposefully drive slower just to finish a race. However, the FIA may also be trying to stress the importance of hybrid power. Without the ERS system, cars this year will definitively NOT finish the race.

The FIA have also introduced two key engine rules. Teams are only allowed to use five power units throughout the season; go over this limit, and the driver must start from the pit lane. With reliability being a massive issue this year, as demonstrated by the dismal RB10 in testing in Jerez, and with temperatures of the power train and the ERS exceeding 900 degrees Celsius, this seems to be a serious cause for concern.

Additionally, before an engine can be replaced, it must cover 4000km, as opposed to 2000km in previous years. These two rules seems absurd, given this is the largest change in Formula One since the previous turbo era in the 1970s. There is guaranteed to be quite a few safety cars this year, and perhaps major disappointments.

Various sporting regulations have also been changed this year, and I am happy to say that it is within the interest of clean, exciting racing this year. For the first time in a long time, in-season testing has been brought back to Formula One. This will allow for an increased rate of development, ensuring better reliability for teams and more racing, without having to watch the safety car tediously circling the track throughout the year.

Tyre manufacturers Pirelli are also allowed to conduct one tyre test per team over the year in hope to prevent delaminations as seen in 2013, most notably at the Silverstone grand prix. They have also been given permission to change the tyre specification at any time during the year should these delaminations occur.

Finally, having summarized most of the technical and sporting regulations for the 2014 season, I conclude with perhaps the most controversial regulation: the decision to award double points for the last race of the season. Drivers, most notably Sebastian Vettel, have complained about this, feeling that it penalised drivers who have consistently performed throughout the year.

Team principals and key leaders have also been vocal on the subject, with head of Ferrari Luca di Montezemolo claiming that he is ‘not enthusiastic’ about the new rule, but also admitted that he would see how things turned out in the future. This seems to be an interesting comment by Montezemolo, considering that if the rule had been in place, it would be Fernando Alonso who would be a four times world champion, and not Vettel.

Could this rule be the one that changes the landscape of F1? Time will tell.

Comments (1)

  • I am so sick of all this talk of saving money in F1, when they keep doing
    things that cost more money! Voluntary KERS, then no KERS and then KERS
    for everyone! Double diffusers are OK, no we changed our minds! Also, tell me what the hell was wrong with the V8’s? They were fast, reliable and they sounded great.

    This nonsense about wanting F1 to be more relevant to street car technology is almost laughable! They are going in opposite directions with more and more computer enhancements on street cars while they are rightfully kept to a minimum on F1 cars.

    Last year we had the drivers backing off to protect the tires. This year it will be the fuel and maybe the tires as well. It is supposed to be the epitome of auto-sport, not about driving to conserve tires and fuel at the end of the race, but pushing to the limit. Michael Schumacher had the balls to call this out after he was to retire and it was even hinted at by Mark Weber, when he was walking away as well. No one who’s paycheck is F1 dependent will dare say much of anything. In addition, it seems that every-time someone innovates something that gives them an advantage it is ruled illegal. As far as wanting to make an impression and save some fuel, take a look at the ridiculous fly away schedule. There is where you could save some fuel, big time!

    Through politics and other chicanery, this sport has been heading in the wrong
    direction since 2007/8! The strange way the tires worked for some last year but not others and the way that situation almost reversed after the tire change was a bit troubling as well. This may be a make or break year for F1 and me being a
    fan as well!

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