The dramatic changes in F1 this season are likely to result in a more intense in-season car development battle than ever before – but can new restrictions prevent it being ‘biggest budget wins’ in the end?
It is just three weeks before the first of the pre-season tests and with just 12 days of on-track running at best before to the first race – Lotus have already admitted they will miss the first test - there will be plenty of unfinished jobs even when the cars hit the track in anger for the first time in Australia in March.
The switch to a 1.6-litre V6 turbo engine with two supporting energy recovery systems has impacted on overall car design, with new cooling requirements affecting overall aerodynamic performance. This is on top of the changes to the front chassis shape, an altered rear wing, a new single exhaust outlet that puts an end to blown diffusers and a reduction in front wing width that will have a significant impact on endplate design and the airflow around the front wheels.
It has required a complete re-design for this season and some teams are already well ahead in the spending stakes, having taken an unrestricted opportunity to plunge significant resources and personnel into 2014 conceptual design for more than two years.
But despite all this work, this is just the beginning.
The rules are such that there will almost certainly be big differences between the solutions delivered by the three engine manufacturers Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. That could result in crucial performance differences, but the first priority in terms of resources will be in ironing out the likely reliability issues as the season gets underway.
All this means in-season development will need to be at a high rate from the off and the scope for improvement on such infant designs will reward those who can push their engineers the hardest through the year.
Some insiders expect it to be up to two months before reliability glitches are overcome, given the complexity of this year’s changes, and that takes us to race six in Monaco.
The teams who can solve issues sooner will reap the benefit of time spent in development rather than problem solving – and two months, even at last year’s rates, would deliver around half a second per lap. The scope in aerodynamic development this year means that benefit will be even bigger.
All this paints a bleak picture for the teams with lower budgets and fewer people.
The Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA), although still in place is all but dead, with Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo claiming it is “very easy to cheat” the system, particularly for the top teams.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who has recent experience of midfield and top level teams, recently admitted that the leaders “probably spend three or four times the money” of the smaller teams.
Most of the paddock has admitted it is time for a budget cap, but that won’t be in place until 2015 at the earliest, so this year the purse strings are loose and the pressure to get ahead right at the start of a new era is enormous.
There is one small hope for those with less capacity to spend, and that lies in a reduction in aerodynamic testing.
This year, it will be reduced to nearly a third of what was previously allowed and unlike many promises in the RRA, this restriction should be measurable and enforceable.
Both CFD and windtunnel testing are capped to a maximum amount of ‘wind on’ tunnel hours and CFD processing power within an eight-week testing period, with one offset against the other up to a combined total.
That will work to a certain extent, but really, for 2014 at least, talk of moving a ‘more sustainable F1’ is rubbish.
No team is going to restrict their spending when they see the golden carrot of race victories and increased prize money and the potential to be at the front of the field for the long term in what should be a new period of stable regulations.
And no matter what the restrictions, the teams will always find ways to spend their way to success.