ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 8 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   2001 Technical Preview:
New Rules, New Cars

  by Will Gray, England

As much as Formula One will change this year, it is unlikely to be any different at the top of the tree when the off-season developments come to a conclusion in Melbourne, on March 4th.

For the teams it will seem a long time since they began designing their new challengers midway through last year, and once again it will be those outfits with the most resources who will have got to grips with the new rules faster than others.

Technically, the Grand Prix car has changed significantly since the end of last season, and the impacts of the new regulations have been so significant that McLaren designer Adrian Newey claims a near-complete re-design was required for the MP4-16, and believes 2001 begins a new era of Formula One design. "The upper wing is now limited in depth and to a total of three elements, whereas at places like Monaco and Hungary teams have run seven or eight elements in the past," Newey explains.

"The lower part of the rear wing is limited to a single element, where previously some teams have run three elements. This also has to be mounted very low on the car, so those two changes drastically reduce the amount of wing downforce available. This doesn't translate into a big change at circuits like Hockenheim and Monza, but at tracks like Hungary and Monaco there will be a pretty dramatic reduction in the downforce levels." Newey added, "The crash structures haven't been too much of a problem. Obviously it's meant a slightly longer sidepod, but apart from that, no major problems. The higher roll hoop loads again have meant putting weight up high, but it's the same for everybody, and undoubtedly a good regulation change."

One of the key rule changes to the car this season is the 50mm increase in front wing height which, by moving the wing away from the track, reduces the ground effect on the assembly, and therefore reduces the overall downforce at the front of the car.

Simple enough, but that's not where it ends. The interaction between all the aerodynamic aspects of the car means that a change in airflow at the front will propagate all the way down the car, and because of this the teams have had to re-optimise their aerodynamics over the entire car.

Raised front wing for 2001In a separate rule change, the rear wing has also come in for some reduction in downforce which, although not particularly significant for the low downforce circuits, could have a big effect when the teams arrive in Monaco.

There are two sections of the rear-wing, and both have come under the FIA knife in an effort to reduce the downforce and therefore the speed of the cars. The upper section must now contain just three wing elements, rather than the seven or eight that were previously permitted, and this in itself dramatically reduces the amount of downforce available.

However, as well as the reduced number of elements, the wing is also limited in depth, and this means that with a reduced angle of attack, the wings themselves will not be able to produce as much downforce and the levels will be reduced even more.

That is not all. Changes have also been made to the previously triple-element lower section, which will now only be allowed one element which must be mounted lower on the car. In its new position, the air flowing over the lower element will be much more disturbed as the wing will interact much more with the rear end of the car.

On top of the aerodynamic changes, the FIA have also introduced some major new changes to the safety tests required on chassis that have seen increases in the cars' weight in some unwanted places. There is a much higher force given to all sides of the roll structure above the driver's head, with the energy exerted on the side of the structure being a massive 400 per cent higher than in last year's test.

That demands more material to give a higher strength to the structure, and that means an increase in weight. Although this is essential for safety, it is a great inconvenience for the teams because it increases the height of the centre of gravity, which compromises the performance of the car.

The second important change in safety regulations is a new side intrusion requirement, which means further increases in structural material are required to strengthen the chassis enough to pass the test. The teams were already looking at major work for their 2001 challengers, but on top of these changes, there have been new demands to 'open out' the chassis, as the FIA has issued new rules to help accomodate tall drivers.

Simpler rear wing for 2001The regulating body has demanded a further lengthening of the cockpit opening, and have moved it further back from the front wheels, and widened the chassis cross section to allow a 25mm foam padding around the driver's legs. This is aimed at reducing damage to the driver's legs in incidents such as Olivier Panis's crash at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1997. The minimum cross section of the chassis itself has also been increased, and that will have an effect, albeit minor, on the overall drag of the car.

Last but most certainly not least comes the most major regulation change to the cars, with the reintroduction of traction control to the Formula One grid. Last officially used in 1993, the driver aid was banned because it took away the skills from the driver, but it will make a return this year as electronics become one of the most important areas of the car.

The systems on the cars have become so in-depth and complicated that the FIA can no longer police the area effectively - it would need to hire technical gurus as skilled as those on the teams to ensure nothing slipped through the net.

However, the return of the electronic system, which effectively controls the link between the driver's foot and the engine throttle to prevent any reduced-load tyres from spinning, is not expected by many to cause much of a change in the running order. It was rumoured that several teams were running the system illegally last year, so those that were should have the jump on the rest of the field.

In fact, any changes in the regulations at this level will benefit the 'haves' and leave the 'have nots' trailing. All these changes have once again benefited the teams with most resources, and with McLaren and Ferrari having scores more personnel than the other Grand Prix squads, it is these two teams who should be ahead of the game when the season starts in Australia.

Will Gray© 2007
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