Mid-May in 2015: Mercedes have just completed a predictable rout of the opposition in Spain, three-quarters of a minute ahead of their closest rival.
Five races in and it’s clear this championship will be just as uncompetitive as the previous one. Within Formula One a hue and cry goes up for something to be done to inject more action into the competition.
Riding to the rescue comes F1’s Strategy Group. Bernie Ecclestone’s group of F1’s wealthiest teams plus representatives from Formula One Management and the FIA announce they will reinvigorate the racing by making the cars faster, louder, sexier and handing the teams much greater strategic freedom.
It made for a nice press release but eight months later it’s clear it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Every significant pledge made has since been watered down or abandoned entirely.
Free tyre choice in 2016
While most of the Strategy Group’s plans concentrated on the 2017 season, it had one major change in mind for the coming championship:
Free choice of the two dry tyre compounds (out of four) that each team can use during the race weekend
After much debate and following considerable opposition from Pirelli a far more restrictive implementation of the idea was eventually agreed. While the total number of compounds has gone up to five, only three will be available to teams each weekend.
Furthermore drivers can be told which two compounds they must use during the race. In one restrict the new rules are more restrictive than they were before – drivers are now being given a mandatory tyre compounds for Q3 as well.
Unsurprisingly drivers and engineers have already commented that the new rule will make little difference, and whatever new strategic avenues it may open will be quickly sussed by the teams.
Refuelling in 2017
One of the Strategy Group’s promises for 2017 never came close to getting off the ground:
Reintroduction of refuelling (maintaining a maximum race fuel allowance)
Refuelling was dropped just six years ago on grounds of costs. That case against it is arguably even more pressing now than it was then, making it hard to imagine how its return would see the light of day.
Moreover, the very fact the current generation of engines consume much less fuel than the V8s and V10s did reduces the potential gain from refuelling as a means of improving performance. Consequently there was little expectation it would make a great difference to strategies.
Most F1 Fanatic readers were against it, so perhaps there will be little disappointment the idea gained no traction.
Lower lap times
The most eye-catching part of the Strategy Group’s announcement was the goal of making F1 cars almost as fast as they were during the record-setting V10 era.
Faster cars: five to six seconds drop in lap times through aerodynamic rules evolution, wider tyres and reduction of car weight
A reduction in car weight would have reversed a trend which has seen F1 car weights rise by over 100 kilogrammes in less than a decade – an increase of more than 17%. However most of this increase has come from the new power units, the weights of which are also set in the rules, and as yet there is no indication these will be revised.
Designs have emerged for a wider new generation of F1 cars featuring some very tightly-prescribed aerodynamic enhancements. But the chances of them seeing the light of day took a dive when Pirelli told the teams their tyres could not withstand the expected rise in downforce without a corresponding increase in tyre pressures which would eras much of the lap time gain.
FOM faces must have turned a shade of ultra-soft purple when it learned the tyre supplier which lavished praise on last year and awarded a new three-year contract was now swinging a wrecking ball into what remained of its plans to make F1 more exciting.
Stability: A change for the better?
It seems increasingly likely we will see little change in 2017. That itself is something of a departure in a sport which has developed a worrying habit of making knee-jerk changes to its rules.
Despite the Strategy Group’s pronouncements it now seems very little of their planned 2017 changes will come to pass. That may well turn out to be not to be such a bad thing after all.
2016 F1 season
- 2016 Belgian Grand Prix build-up in pictures
- New Pirelli tyres to be tested on Friday
- Hamilton confirms he will take grid penalty at Spa
- 2016 Belgian Grand Prix team-by-team preview
- Spa sunshine may not last until the race