F1: First Look, New Look
After months of testing, teasing, politics and drama, Formula One’s 2007 season has finally sailed past the green flag. If last weekend’s thunder down under is any indication, the 2007 season may (or may not) provide a radical change from the increasing (not to say relentless) routine of F1 seasons past. There are new drivers driving new cars for new teams, and “old” drivers driving new cars for new teams. And thanks to rule changes, F1 racing technology has also altered in several important ways. Here’s the inside dope:
Although new FIA legislation has led to some major technological differences from seasons past, few of these are obvious to the naked eye. First and foremost, the much-decried “engine freeze” is now a fait accompli. All F1 powerplants are hereby rev-limited to 19,000 rpm. No further mechanical development is allowed. Other than attendant tuning tweaks, the 2007 engines must be identical to the units raced at the last two GP’s of 2006.
Rumor has it that the teams’ engines are, power-wise, more similar than ever before (as was the governing body’s intention). Some experts suggest that only 10hp separates the most and least powerful engines on the grid. This, of course, places ever-more emphasis on aerodynamic performance, which continues to evolve at a rapid pace.
As for overall vehicle design, according to the Concorde Agreement (F1’s governing document), teams own the intellectual property rights to their car’s chassis. In other words, “customer” cars are disallowed. Skirting the new rules, the Toro Rosso and Super Aguri teams have chosen to field cars which are close derivatives of their A-teams’ designs.
The competitiveness shown by Super Aguri’s SA07 entry in Oz promises an acrimonious debate, scheduled for the arbitration docket once the European season begins.
On the tire front, ‘07 showcases the winner of the long-running tire war: Bridgestone. While many consider Michelin’s departure as a hit to the sport’s competitive nature, the FIA can now regulate vehicle performance by stipulating the level of grip provided by the tires. The change is bound to lower cornering speeds and increase emphasis on driver ability.
The regulations concerning tire use have also changed. Bridgestone will produce four dry compounds to be used throughout the season. At any given race, F1 teams will have two tire compound options (both chosen by Bridgestone). Teams will also be required to use both specifications of dry tire during the race, unless a wet tire is used.
In order to increase greater fan involvement, the FIA has asked Bridgestone to produce tires that are “visually distinctive” from one another. The softer of the two available compounds, the so-called “option” tire, is clearly marked as such.
This year’s F1 grid also sees a plethora of personnel changes. The headline: two-time and defending world champion Fernando Alonso has abandoned his reliable blue and yellow Renault for an unreliable silver arrows-throwback McLaren, displacing Big Mac driver Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen, widely considered the fastest man on the grid, has taken his title challenge to Ferrari.
The Scuderia Ferrari team has transformed itself in the off-season. Ross Brawn (technical director), Nigel Stepney (race engineer) and Michael Schumacher (expert in questionable and effective race tactics) have all left for greener pastures. Only a handful of Ferrari’s race-tested, battle-hardened upper-level team members remain.
And so to Oz, where, despite all the alterations, it was business as usual for Ferrari.
Starting from the pole position, Kimi Raikkonen’s Fezza dismissed all comers with the same sort of clinical precision the team’s former German driver displayed for the last ten years or so. Raikkonen led every lap save the few following his pit stops. It was solid confirmation of the team’s series-leading off-season pace, offering the terrible prospect (at least for non-Ferrari fans) of yet another season of potential domination by the Italians.
Anyway, in traditional Finnish fashion, Raikkonen competed in two races in the last two weeks. Before the F1 circus, Raikkonen entered and won a 24k snowmobile race. Kimi raced under the oh-so-telling nom-de-guerre James Hunt, the bon vivant whose epic off-track shenanigans make Kimi’s legendary exploits look positively tame.
This is not to say Raikkonen is Schumacher. The Finn is a highly volatile guy; it remains to be seen if his hard-partying lifestyle (read: drinking bottles of vodka and exposing himself to strippers) will prove detrimental to his title hopes.
Finally, the calendar has undergone some tweaks. Spa-Francorchamps returns after a one-year hiatus for track and pit facility upgrades. The San Marino GP at Imola has been dropped and is unlikely to return.
All these changes were designed to reinvigorate the sport after Schumacher’s departure, and set the stage for a new crop of F1 superstars. If you look at the struggle beneath Raikkonen, the Australian GP indicates that it sounds crazy, but it just might work.
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