This season sees the biggest rule changes in years, and the complex nature of new compact turbocharged engines coupled with two electrical energy recovery systems has tested manufacturers to the limits.
The centrepiece of the new formula is the 1.6-litre V6 turbo engine, limited to 15,000rpm with fuel flow restricted to 100kg/h at high revs to self-limit the amount of turbo boost. Teams have just five engine changes before receiving penalties compared with eight last year.
On top of this, the cars now have two electric power units – one that harvests energy from braking (ERS-K) and one from the heat of the turbo exhaust (ERS-H). Together with the internal combustion engine, the aim is for the cars to produce similar power levels to before, but in a more environmentally friendly and industry relevant manner.
But the change will be noticeable in many ways.
The piercing note of the V8 engines that went before has gone, and the muffling of the exhaust by the turbo and ERS-H system has reduced the noise. Reports so far are that it’s different, but not necessarily bad – but the public test will come in Melbourne.
The input from electric power will significantly increase, with double the amount (161bhp up from 80bhp)) for five times as long (30s up from 6s). It will be fed by the teams on pit wall rather than the previous push-button system used with KERS and the biggest effect on drivers will be the increase in torque, with a much harsher power delivery set to create more wheelspin and bring with it significant challenges on tyre wear management.
To cope with this extra torque, the cars now use eight-speed gearboxes (up one gear from last year) but these come with restrictions that severely limit set-up options. Previously teams had 30 ratios to choose from for each race whereas now they must choose the eight ratios at the season start and can make only one permitted change during the year.
The minimum weight has also been increased to cater for the added weight of the power unit, but some claim it has not gone up enough and that the restriction is unfairly penalising taller, heavier drivers.
Mercedes look to have delivered the best solution so far, which is good news for Williams, who switched from Renault, as well as the Mercedes works team, Force India and McLaren, although the latter will likely get restricted service due to their defection to Honda for 2015.
Renault, meanwhile, is struggling, which is bad news for champions Red Bull and their sister team Toro Rosso (who switched from Ferrari) as well as Caterham and Lotus. Ferrari, meanwhile, is thought to be between the two in terms of performance, and along with supplying Sauber they will also now support back-of-the-grid Marussia after Cosworth chose not to build to new regulations.
It’s not just the performance of the cars that has changed – and the aesthetic challenges designers have had to face due to the changes in aerodynamic nose regulations have created some pretty ugly designs.
The tip of the nose must now be no more than 185mm high (365mm lower than last year) but as the FIA did not stipulate a specific slope angle between that point and the next measurement point at the front of the main chassis bulkhead, a major loophole opened up that has delivered some wild solutions.
To minimise aerodynamic blockage in the nose area, some teams have taken the approach to keep the upper chassis high but make it legal with thin nose protrusions that drop down to meet the letter of the law. The front wing has also been narrowed by 7.5mm on either side, which seems small but affects the flow around the front tyres.
At the rear, the other less noticeable but perhaps more significant change is the centralised single exhaust, which effectively now rules out blown diffusers.
In addition to that, the ban on the beam wing, which used to sit just above the rear suspension, has further reduced rear downforce although there are already some innovative solutions aimed at clawing that back, from McLaren in particular.
SPORTING REGULATION CHANGES
Despite the uproar it caused, it seems double points is firmly in for 2014. Despite fears it will dumb down the value of the championship, scores in the Abu Dhabi finale will now be worth twice that of any other race in a bid to maintain excitement to the end of the season.
The other big change is in qualifying, where the top-10 shoot-out will be lengthened to allow drivers to do two runs and each will be given an extra set of tyres to ensure all go out on track in that final session.
For safety reasons, the pitlane speed limit has been reduced by 20km/h and on top of traditional stop-go and time penalties, a points system will be introduced that sees set drivers penalised for different misdemeanours and given a race ban after 12 points are accumulated.
Finally, mid-season testing will return, with three two-day tests during the season and a final post-season test in Abu Dhabi. It will allow teams to run more efficient in-season development, but there will be restrictions on cars used and work done and one day for each team will be specifically allocated to tyre testing.
Click here for part two, as we run down the big driver changes....
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