New season, new rules, new cars – so what's new about that? Every year the technical regulations governing F1 are rewritten, and every year the cars produced to those regulations are different to the cars that have gone before – so why the hulabaloo about 2014?
Simply put, the changes between the 2013 and 2014 specifications are massive. It's not just a tweak to the regs; it's the start of an entirely new era. Of the thousands of parts that go into making a Formula One car, almost none is carried over from the RB9 into the RB10. We've seen these defining step-changes before in the 60-odd year history of the sport. But if you were to argue this is the biggest transformation of the lot, you wouldn't hear too many dissenting voices.
So, in broad brush teams, here's what new, front to back for 2014 on the technical side of the operation:
The span of the front wing is narrowing from 1800 mm to 1650 mm. It may not sound like much but it's a change that places the wing endplates more obviously in line with the front tires, giving designers a decision to make regarding which way to direct airflow.
There's a big change to the height of the nose tip, which drops from a maximum height of 550 mm to a maximum of 185 mm. The high nose has been useful for guiding airflow under the car, but it's also viewed as a risk in “launching” accidents where one car impacts the rear of another and flies into the air. Mark Webber's collision with Heikki Kovalainen in Valencia being a prime example. It may prove effective but it isn't necessarily going to be pretty.
The front bulkhead also reduces in height down to 525mm – meaning the driver's feet will be slightly lower than they are today – but the area around the cockpit retains a height of 625mm.
The crash tubes inside the chassis are changing for 2014. They'll be longer and of triangular section. Because they're a standard design for all the teams, it slightly curtails a designer's freedom in the floor and sidepod areas. The intention of the change was to improve lateral impact protection while also reducing costs. The design work for the standardized tubes was done here at Infiniti Red Bull Racing.
All the changes this year are big, but this – without question – is the big one. The 2.4-liter V8 engine F1 has used since 2006 has been retired and is replaced with a 1.6-liter V6 unit, featuring direct injection, a turbocharger and a limit of 15,000 rpm, down from 18,000 rpm in 2013.
Despite the smaller engine, 2014 isn't expected to see any shortfall in horsepower thanks to an uprated KERS and the addition of a second energy recovery system. The KERS motor-generator (aka MGU-K) can supply 120kW rather than the 60kW of the old system. More significantly the MGU-K can release up to 4MJ per lap. That's 10 times as much as was allowable in 2013 and means KERS will be either recovering or releasing energy for most of the lap.
While the MGU-K can release 4MJ per lap, it can only recover 2MJ. Any other energy recovered will come from the second energy recovery system. The MGU-H (K for Kinetic, H for Heat) is part of the turbocharger assembly and recovers heat energy from the flow of exhaust gases. It will serve several functions: preventing the turbo from over-speeding (i.e. replicating the function of the waste gate on a conventional turbo), negating turbo-lag by keeping the turbocharger spun-up, and feeding excess energy into either battery storage or directly to the MGU-K.
Taken together, the 2014 ERS will be allowed to provide 10 times the energy of 2013 KERS and will supply a motor delivering twice as much power.
More recovered energy means more energy storage, which means a bigger battery pack. It's now required that the batteries pack weigh between 20-25 kg. It will also be necessary to place the battery in the center of the car (under the fuel cell) as one coherent unit.
The knock on effect of the new power unit is that the F1 car will require more cooling. Expect to see bulkier sidepods to accommodate larger radiators.
For 2014, the rear brakes get a powered rear braking system with a degree of electronic control. This will help control the car and counter problems experienced previous with harvesting energy under braking.
Another big change: For 2014 F1 cars will feature exhaust exits 170-185 mm behind the rear axle line. When the exhaust blown diffuser became an issue a few years, F1 regulators sought to stop the exploitation of exhaust gasses for aerodynamic gain. The first solution was to legislate exhausts that exited the bodywork pointing skywards. Teams countered this by sculpting their bodywork to take advantage of the Coanda effect and recapture the fluid flow. This latest rule tweak moves the exhaust exit downstream of the bodywork attempting to halt its influence on aerodynamics (beyond that which is incidental to its function).
Given the placement of the exhausts, the lower beam wing wasn't going to survive in the 2014 regulations. Its original purpose was to add rigidity to the rear wing structure; to replace it, teams will be able to use vertical stabilizers. The new regs will allow them to retain the monkey seat (or Y75 winglet for those with no sense of fun). Another change to the rear wing is that the main plane will be a little shallower.
Gearboxes will have eight forward gears instead of the seven to which we're accustomed. As the gearbox ratios are going to be fixed from 2014 forwards (they may be changed once in 2014), the extra gear adds a little more scope.
Everything is heavier in 2014 – except the drivers. The minimum weight of the complete power unit is 145 kg, (the 2013 engine had a minimum weight of 95 kg) and the (unfuelled) minimum weight of the car plus driver will rise to 690 kg, up from 642 kg. The increase is due to the inclusion of the heavier power unit, but the figures don't quite balance out – so expect to see some of the taller drivers looking quite gaunt in Melbourne.