As we approach the launch dates of the 2018 Formula One cars, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of the changes that will take place this year. Halo aside, there are plenty of changes, adjustments and tweaks that may have escaped your eye in the off season. I’ve avoided the deeply complex technical regulations and have tried to explain the remainder in the simplest terms that I can. So in no particular order, here are some of the changes that you may – or may not – notice the most.
Twenty-one races feature this year with a number of back to back events. The French Grand Prix is scheduled to return, the first time the cars have raced in France since 2008. The location will be the Paul Ricard Circuit, which last hosted the French Grand Prix in 1990, before the race moved onto Magny Cours. The race will take place in France on June 24 and as a result, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku has been brought forward to April to accommodate the change.
The German Grand Prix also returns to the calendar after a one year absence. July 22 will see teams heading to the Hockenheimring to battle it out on the 4.5km circuit.
The Russian Grand Prix moves from April to September and forms part of a back to back event with the Japanese Grand Prix.
Whilst there have been additions, there has also been the loss of a Grand Prix, with Malaysia bowing out of the championship after 18 years of racing. The Sepang International Circuit will continue to host other championships and will consider returning to the championship some time in the future.
After a pretty rocky relationship, McLaren called time on their engine deal with Honda and signed onto a three year deal with Renault. In order for the McLaren – Renault partnership to take place, Toro Rosso had to part ways with Renault first. So in quite a complicated deal that includes Red Bull loaning Carlos Sainz to Renault, Toro Rosso has given up their engines to McLaren and have taken on the Honda powerplant in its place.
After speculation that Sauber would take Honda power in 2018, the news broke that the Swiss outfit had indeed negotiated a deal with Ferrari to continue using their power units in 2018 – and will use the current spec model, not a lower grade year old unit as previously. Further to, Sauber have been furnished with a Ferrari development driver and will carry Alfa Romeo branding in 2018.
After a 2017 late season trail, Toro Rosso confirmed that 2016 GP2 Champion Pierre Gasly would partner two-time WEC Champion Brendon Hartley for their 2018 campaign.
Daniil Kvyat was released from his contract with Red Bull after a difficult year. In a move the surprised more than just a few people, Kvyat was named as a Development Driver with Scuderia Ferrari for 2018.
Charles Leclerc, the current F2 Champion joins the aforementioned Sauber as a part of the Ferrari engine deal. Leclerc is a rising star in the Ferrari Development squad and is being primed for a role at the mothership in the future. Leclerc’s arrival meant Wehrlein was shown the door and unable to secure a drive in 2018, has been retained by Mercedes within their Driver Development programme.
With the retirement of Felipe Massa (again – but this time ‘for sure’) Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin was confirmed to partner Lance Stroll at Williams. Backed by SMP Racing, the for Renault Test Driver will make his competitive debut in Melbourne.
Robert Kubica returns to Formula One, being named as the Reserve and Development Driver with Williams. Narrowly missing out on the race seat to Sirotkin, Kubica will undertake an extensive simulator programme and will take to the circuit at a number of FP1 sessions in 2018.
The much derided grid penalty system has been given a much needed overhaul for 2018, after some drivers were subjected to penalties that numbered over the amount of cars on the actual grid.
For 2018, in the event that a driver changes a power unit component, they will take a five-place or ten-place grid penalty, depending on the component being changed. If they need to replace a second component, then the driver will be sent to the back of the grid.
So what happens if multiple drivers are moved to the back of the grid? Well they’ve thought of that and if that occurs (and probably will), the starting positions will be determined by the order that the components were changed, based on the most recent change made by the driver. That’s going to be one complicated Excel spreadsheet to maintain.
The rules for the starting procedure have been overhauled too, with Stewards being granted the power to issue penalties for improper race starts – even if the automated detection system isn’t activated. This change was introduced after two incidents in 2017; namely Vettel positioning his Ferrari incorrectly at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix and Bottas’ rather questionable reaction time at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Drivers taking part in Free Practice Sessions will now have some tougher licence restrictions to adhere to, with candidate drivers being required to complete a minimum number of F2 races – or earn twenty-five superlicence points over a three year period.
The number of pre-season testing days was reduced to just seven and the mid-season test, due to be held in Bahrain, has instead been scheduled for Barcelona.
In 2017 drivers were allocated four complete power units to manage over the course of the season. This year, it’s been broken down into individual components, with each component being considered seperately. Each driver will be permitted to use up to three each of internal combustion engines (ICE), heat motor generator units (MGU-H), and turbochargers (TC); and two each of the kinetic motor generator units (MGU-K), energy stores (ES), and control electronics (CE).
The practice of oil burning (covered here in a previous article), where engine oils are burned to boost performance, has also been subject to restrictions, with teams allowed to burn a maximum of 0.6 litres per 100 kilometers, down from the 1.2/100 in 2017.
Shark fins will disappear, as will the T-Wing – the horizontal secondary wing mounted forward of and above the rear wing.
A rather clever trick adopted by Red Bull and Ferrari in 2017 has been outlawed for 2018, with the FIA closing the loophole on trick suspension systems. These rather ingenious systems were believed to alter the cars aerodynamic performance, with a small link in the front suspension connected to the upright allowing for a change in ride height of the car to a be altered over the course of the lap.
Following a series of serious incidents in open-wheel racing – including the fatal accidents of Henry Surtees and Justin Wilson – in which drivers were struck on the head by debris, the FIA announced plans to introduce additional mandatory cockpit protection with 2018 given as the first year for its introduction. Several solutions were tested, with the final design subject to feedback from teams and drivers. Each design was created to deflect debris away from a driver’s head without compromising their visibility or the ability of safety marshals to access the cockpit and extract a driver and their seat in the event of a serious accident or medical emergency, with a series of serious accidents – such as the fatal accidents of Jules Bianchi and Dan Wheldon – recreated to simulate the ability of devices to withstand a serious impact.
The FIA ultimately settled on the “Halo”, a wishbone-shaped frame mounted above and around the driver’s head and anchored to the monocoque forward of the cockpit. Following criticisms over the aesthetic value of the device, the FIA revealed plans to allow teams some design freedom in the final version of the halo, with the device being incorporated into the chassis design from its inception rather than attached once the design was completed. The mandatory crash tests that each chassis must pass were adjusted to include a new static load test. In order to simulate a serious accident, a tyre was mounted to a hydraulic ram and fired at the crash structure; to pass the test, the chassis and the mounting points for the halo had to remain intact. In order to prevent teams from exploiting the halo for aerodynamic gain and potentially compromising its purpose, the FIA banned teams from developing their own devices and instead required them to purchase a prefabricated model from an approved supplier.
Drivers will be required to wear gloves containing biometric sensors which record their vital signs in order to better assist marshals and recovery crews in assessing their condition in the event of an accident.
In Abu Dhabi, tyre supplier Pirelli revealed the range of tyres that will be supplied in 2018, with two new compounds revealed. Each of the 2017 compounds is set to be made a step softer, with the new Hypersoft becoming the softest, whilst the Superhard will become the hardest. The sidewall colours have changed too with the Hypersoft being denoted by a bubblegum pink, while the Superhard will be orange. The Hard compound – which used to be orange – will become pale blue.
The rules dictating which tyres are available were relaxed to allow Pirelli to supply a wider range of compounds. Previously, Pirelli had to provide sequential compounds; for example, ultrasoft, supersoft and soft. In 2018, Pirelli is able to supply compounds with two steps of difference between them, e.g., the ultrasoft, supersoft and medium tyres.
Pirelli will also be required to manufacture an additional tyre compound that is not intended for competition. This tyre will be supplied to teams for use in demonstration events to prevent teams from using demonstration events as informal – and illegal – testing.
The weight of the car, without fuel, must not be less than 733kg at all times during the race weekend. If, when required for checking, a car is not already fitted with dry-weather tyres, it will be weighed on a set of dry-weather tyres selected by the FIA technical delegate.