I think that most F1 fans will have worked out that the cars have new, lower noses this year – resulting in the duck/platypus/camel look – but why, and what else has changed?
The reason for the camel look is that the FIA wanted the nose to be lower than the centre of the rear wheel; this way the cars weren’t launched in the event of a collision (think Heikki/Webber in Valencia). It also increases the protection around a driver’s head during a side impact, which is further assisted by the increased size of the intrusion panels on the sidepods. Fair enough, but next time please also change the front-end height of the safety cell…
Next, the most sensible and non-controversial change: teams are now only able to use nitrogen or air to power wheel guns, and not helium as was becoming fashionable. Basically, once one team starts doing it, they all will, and when they all do it, there’s no advantage for anyone. So, as helium can be up to fifty times the price of nitrogen, the FIA have insisted teams make do with the cheap stuff. Teams have also been informed that the gun man must decide if the wheel is correctly attached – no automated system is allowed to do this (although lights on guns showing that the wheel has been torqued are ok – judging by the Barcelona pitlane, all teams are using light systems for pitstops this year).
We also have a rule intended to clarify the one-move during overtaking rule; but, having looked at that last time, I’ll pass on that (no pun intended!).
Next up: tyre usage on Fridays. Each car still receives 11 sets of tyres per weekend, but three sets have to be given back on Friday and two more before qualifying. Typically this means that a team will choose two sets of Primes and one set of Options for the Friday; last year they could only use those three sets on a Friday, now they can now use more (if the weather looks dodgy on Saturday, for example) as long as they still give three sets back. Not a major change but it might mean more running on Fridays. Can only be good.
We’ll also be seeing the re-introduction of the possibility for lapped cars to unlap themselves when the safety car has been out for more than two laps (to allow for any pitstops). The idea here being that the HRTs and Marussias aren’t swamped at the restart and block the real racing between the Red Bulls, McLaren’s and co. I’d initially thought that it would be easier just to blue flag the lapped cars while under the Safety Car conditions, but this doesn’t fairly deal with the situation that Virgin Racing experienced in 2010 when Timo was about 5 seconds behind Heikki, and had just been lapped when the SC board was shown – net result: a one lap lead over Timo for the Lotus (as it was then). So on balance, a good idea.
There have also been changes in a number of areas where the FIA have deemed that teams are pushing past the spirit of the regulations – suspension upright design, front wing deflection, floor thickness tolerance, etc. These have been tightened up, which should have virtually no effect (unless you happen to be the designer of one of the parts).
Probably the biggest change is the positioning of the exhaust pipes. Throughout 2010 and 2011 teams were trying ever more complicated ways of using the exhaust gases to generate downforce. Now, although there was a move to stop this during 2011 by changing the ECU systems, the leading teams managed to prevent the ban being implemented. The new regulation is supposed to mean a standardised approach. Unsurprisingly, there still seems to be a variety of interpretations and I will be amazed if we get to the end of the season without a “clarification”.
Finally, one area which hasn’t changed that we thought would be! For 2011, the FIA specified a weight distribution so that nobody could gain an advantage from the (then) new Pirelli tyres by using an unusual front/rear distribution and guessing it right. Surprisingly, the teams liked it and are happy to stick with it – presumably to remove the risk of one team being creative and nobody else being able to fix it without changing the safety cell, which is, generally-speaking, not allowed.
So, all in all, not too much to worry about. The exhaust change will presumably benefit the teams that hadn’t got that so well sorted last year. As for the ugly noses, these might just save a driver in the event of a nasty accident, so best not to complain about them too much.