The last few months has seen a lot of discussions and disagreements behind closed doors about the 2017 Formula 1 rules.

As the clock has ticked by seemingly little has been actually decided, and following what was meant to be two crunch meetings of the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission, very little of great substance was actually agreed.

The rules proposals announced following the meetings are, in reality, much the same as has been known for some time: bigger tyres, wider bodywork, a higher weight limit and delta-shaped wings. A major change is the potential introduction of a 'halo' style driver head protection system, but beyond these small bullet point-style suggestions there are no finalised technical regulations at all.

I hear rumours that every time the group tasked with defining the rules meets they can only agree on broad areas such as those which have been announced - whenever they try to get down to detail everything collapses and nobody can agree on the actual rules which will govern what the FIA is calling 'more dynamic Formula One cars.'

The details announced so far are really very vague, just some very general dimensions and concepts, and they are really not much good without many associated details. To put this into context, the 2016 F1 regulations relating to bodywork run to over 6,600 words. The rules relating to bodywork announced following the Geneva meetings run to 143 words. Now it is certain that a more detailed draft rulebook exists, but this is only a draft and could undergo considerable change between now and the new deadline for the rules to be finalised.

The news that the rules will not be final until 30 April this year will come as a major blow to teams as there is major uncertainty over many key elements of the cars' design - perhaps one of the biggest will be the implementation or otherwise of the so-called Halo head protection system.

This will have a significant impact on the cars' aerodynamics and also the structure of their chassis. It is not clear where the various mounting points will be located on the chassis, what the impact testing requirements will be, or indeed the actual shape of the design itself.

Without this information it becomes very hard to work out the chassis design, meaning that teams probably have to think about two different versions of the car: one designed with the Halo in mind and one designed without. If the Halo concept is not used (and I expect the weight increase of 20kg is partly due to its introduction) then it has a major implication for weight distribution and centre of gravity height. This can alter things like component placement and even wheelbase.

In aerodynamic terms, the Halo - or indeed any other cockpit protection system - has a pretty major influence on airflow around the car. It could even possibly be used to get an aero advantage, though exactly what can be done will have to be defined in the rules, and the rules do not yet exist!

The tyre size too is a factor. Only after the Geneva meeting was the exact size of the much larger 2017 tyres confirmed; now Pirelli has to actually make them and test them to see how they perform. The exact shape and deformation of a tyre at speed is a very important factor in the aerodynamic design of a car, and with prototype tyres not yet built Pirelli cannot give the teams an idea of what the tyres will do in terms of aero.

Indeed, with no tyres yet tested their performance in terms of the suspension is also a big unknown. This is another major factor in the design of things like the inboard suspension layout which impacts both the tub and transmission design.

Once things are fully finalised teams will finally be able to work flat-out on new cars, but the end of April deadline is four or five months later than they would normally start. Such a delay in the new rules is not a huge task for the biggest works-backed teams which have the resources to investigate different concepts. Smaller teams like Force India, Manor or Sauber probably can't explore multiple avenues like this and it makes their lives much harder.

Once the teams get the final rules they have will only have about eight months to finalise the designs and build the first chassis in order to get it through the crash tests in good time. This will be a major headache for the small teams; it could lead to a lot of wasted resource and I think the time has come to put the driver head protection proposals - and indeed most of the new rules - back to 2018, when I hear a new driver seat position will also be introduced.

Despite all of this, some teams are already testing their 2017 designs in the wind tunnel on the assumption that the Halo will be employed. With the specifics of the new bodywork uncertain, I fear a lot of this will end up being wasted effort.

Max Yamabiko

Max Yamabiko will bring you a closer look at the technical side of F1 and motorsport in 2016, from the latest developments and solutions employed to keep you ahead of the game

 

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