The same, but different. That’s how you’d sum up any new season in Formula 1, and this year’s no exception.
While there hasn’t been as comprehensive an overview as last year, when the sport was overhauled with new and exciting aero rules, there’s plenty to get your head around on the eve of another season.
So, here’s your handy ready-reckoner to get you up to speed with F1 2018…
I can see your halo
The most visible change for 2018 is the arrival of the halo cockpit protection, a hoop of titanium tubing that’s bolted across the cockpit opening to protect the driver’s head. Its introduction has been somewhat contentious (“It’s ugly,” say some; “It’s destroying all that’s good and pure about F1,” say others, usually on Twitter), but it follows a number of severe head injuries or deaths that have occurred over the past 10 years, and is seen as the first step in refining this area of driver protection.
It may not be particularly elegant, but, as with any new piece of F1 tech, it tends to stand out at first, then become less and less visible as it blurs into the background. And if it saves someone’s life? Well, wouldn’t that be a good thing?
The weekend: reminder
From now on, races will start at 10 past the hour rather than on the hour. This is to accommodate television networks joining the action on the hour, and giving them 10 minutes’ grace before the race kicks off. It’s a small change, but one which should hopefully prove helpful.
For European races, the whole weekend schedule has also been pushed back by an hour, moving emphasis from early starts in order to better cater for the European market.
Last year’s aero refresh of the cars was a fantastic job – except for the rather ungainly shark-fin wing on the engine cover. Happily, that’s been sawn off for the new season.
Additionally, last year’s aero regs allowed designers to sneakily slip in a tiny, windscreen-wiper-like T-wing ahead of the de facto rear wing. It looked rubbish, wobbled precariously and has also happily been outlawed for 2018.
The new minimum weight limit for a Formula 1 car is up 5kg from last year, meaning cars can weigh no less than 733kg for 2018. That additional weight limit was to incorporate the extra requirements for the Halo and its fittings.
The rule of three
For the fifth year of the new turbo-engine regulations, even greater restrictions have been placed on the number of power unit components used by the driver. Last year, drivers were permitted four internal combustion engines (ICEs) per season; for 2018, this has been reduced to three ICEs, three turbo-chargers and three MGU-Hs. And they’re further limited to just two MGU-Ks, ES packs and control electronics.
In order to minimise the confusion caused by the attendant (and, let’s face it, almost inevitable) grid penalties, the FIA has simplified the procedure. Now, the maximum number of grid positions a driver can be relegated is 15. If a driver incurs further penalties, they will simply be sent to the back of the grid. If more than one driver gets sent to the back, they’ll stack up in the order they accrued the penalties – which should mean there’ll be far less Saturday-afternoon head-scratching as we try and formulate the grid…
With a mammoth 21-race schedule, F1 2018 is set to equal the longest-ever grand prix season, which was back in 2016. Following the loss of the Malaysian Grand Prix, which graced the schedule from 1999 until last year, the circus returns to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix, which was last held two years ago.
More significantly, Formula 1 returns to French soil for the first time in a decade, in a move that was part-engineered by McLaren racing director Eric Boullier. The French Grand Prix makes a long overdue comeback, switching from its previous home at Magny-Cours to the fantastic Paul Ricard test track, near Marseille in the south of the country. Ricard lost hosted a grand prix way back in 1990, but has occasionally been used for tyre testing in the intervening years.
For 2018, tyre supplier Pirelli has moved the compound range one step softer, introducing the new (pink) Hypersoft tyre as the range’s softest option. The Ultrasoft (purple), Supersoft (red), Soft (yellow), Medium (white) remain as before. Now, however, the Hard will be coloured blue, and the new-for-2018 orange Superhard is introduced as a back-up compound.
The softer tyres will hopefully push most races into two-stop territory, hopefully injecting further spice and variation into strategy.
If a race gets red-flagged, the restart will be a standing start from the grid, rather than a rolling restart behind a Safety Car. Given that teams are free to fit fresh tyres following a red flag, this is unlikely to cause any major upsets, but, as with any standing start, is more rather than less likely to shuffle the pack.
in all likeliness, this won’t be a regular occurrence (after all, red flags are fairly unusual), but should still add a little extra spice to races.
While in-season testing isn’t permitted, the teams have opened up opportunities for limited running post-race weekends for a number of years. That continues for 2018, with three two-day tests planned for the Tuesdays and Wednesdays after the Spanish, Hungarian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix.