More twists in the F-1 story

Motor sport: Another set of regulations will be in force next season but not everyone is happy

More twists in the F-1 story

Just two years after introducing radical technical changes with downsized hybrid engines, Formula One is planning another set of regulations that will alter the appearance and philosophy of its cars next season.

But doubts are growing within the series about whether the changes will achieve any of the things they are intended to do: end the supremacy of a single team, reduce costs and improve the show.

Worse, they may give the formidable Mercedes team -- or some other top team -- another chance to dominate. And yet not even the current leader of the series, Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, is happy about the new rules.

"Our opinion was that it's not the right direction to go, and we were hoping that they would definitely relook into it and just make sure from a technical point of view to double-check," Rosberg said. "This is the way it is, so now all we can do is accept it and make the most of it and hope that there are going to be some surprises."

In fact, the series' stakeholders have had such a difficult time agreeing on the new regulations that their ratification was delayed from the end of February to the end of April. Team directors reached a final agreement a day before the deadline.

The new rules are intended to make the cars look more dynamic, with wider bodies, wider wings and wider tires. The wings will give them more aerodynamic downforce and the tires more grip, and the engines will provide more power. As a result, the cars will be up to 5 seconds faster per lap and provide more spectacular, closer racing.

Another change is intended to be a rethinking of the philosophy behind the engines, making the power unit more affordable and giving lower-budget teams a better chance to compete with their wealthier counterparts. But after the series embarrassingly failed to spice up the qualifying format with new sporting rules this year, there has been concern that the new rules will also fail to achieve their goal.

While he agreed with the changes to wider cars and tyres to increase the mechanical grip of the cars, Esteban Gutiérrez, a driver for the Haas team, expressed some doubts.
"What I'm not fully convinced about is the increase in downforce, which will naturally make overtaking more difficult -- or, let's say, following a car more difficult," he said.

Some have noted that any overhaul of the regulations provides an advantage to the bigger teams, since a wealthy team can spend more money and devote more resources to exploiting a new set of rules than a team with a lower budget.

Felipe Nasr, a driver at the financially struggling Sauber team, said that a new set of regulations only added to the problems for his team. While the decision to change the regulations came last year when Mercedes was untouchable, the trailing teams have been catching up this season and competition has been tight, with exciting racing in the first three contests.

And while in early 2014 the new six-cylinder, 1.6-liter hybrid turbo engines -- which changed the way drivers and teams approached car design and race strategy -- were several seconds slower than the cars propelled by the previous 2.4-liter engines, the cars have now not only caught up, but they have gotten faster.

During qualifying on April 2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, the reigning world champion driver at Mercedes, set the track's lap record. Even so, the cars remain less physically difficult to drive than cars in any previous period in the series' history, and many people -- including the drivers -- are seeking more challenging machines. "I think that from a driver's point of view, the mechanical grip will be such a good thing for us drivers to have it back," Nasr said. "But I agree with the others, what they are saying about the downforce; is it exactly what is going to improve the show?"

It was the new rules regarding engines that proved to be the most important sticking point in negotiations, as the series' promoter, Bernie Ecclestone, and its rule-making body, the International Automobile Federation, pushed for the engine manufacturers to reduce costs (by nearly half, to 12 million euros, or about $13.7 million, for an engine) while closing the gap on performance between them.

The FIA and Ecclestone also negotiated to force the series' four engine manufacturers -- Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda -- to agree to provide an engine to any team in need of one, avoiding the kind of crisis the Red Bull team found itself in at the Russian Grand Prix last year, when it had not yet reached a deal with an engine supplier for this season.

Ecclestone also sought to ensure that something would be done to make the engines louder. Since 2014, the hybrid cars have reduced the ear-shattering scream of the V8 engines of the past to a purr not much louder than that of a road car. Eric Bouillier, sporting director of the McLaren team, whose engine manufacturer, Honda, has just started to come to grips with the new hybrid engine formula after a disastrous first year, said he feared that changing the regulations so soon could hurt Honda's ability to improve the engine.

"As far as we are concerned on the engine, we are seeking some stability," he said, "which would be the key to develop and have a better convergence in the future."



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