The Formula One regulations rarely stay the same from one year to the next, and 2012 is no different. They’ve been tweaked over the winter by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, and what follows is a list of the changes you need to know about prior to the season-opener in Melbourne.
The Height of the nose:
Ugliness dominates in F1 this year, the result of the cars’ noses dropping by 75mm. The FIA is seeking to lower the point of impact when one car T-bones another and we’re left with platypus-style noses, used by 10 of the 12 teams including Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso.
Such is Pirelli’s desire to improve their F1 rubber that they’ve just bought a two-year-old Renault F1 car as a test hack. But this latest purchase came after they’d already made changes to their tyre compounds for 2012. Three of their four dry tyre compounds (everything except for the super-soft) have been made softer over the winter, which means they’ll wear faster and that will impact on race strategies. The tyres have also been given squarer profiles, which will meddle with the cars’ aerodynamics, particularly around the floor at the rear of the car.
What’s in an exhaust, eh? Well, quite a lot if it exits on the floor of a Formula One car because it helps to generate downforce. The front-running teams were all over these ‘blown diffusers’ last year and the FIA has sought to close down this performance avenue in 2012.
From now on, exhausts must exit at an angle of between 10 and 30 degrees upwards, and the final 100mm of the pipes must be cylindrical – they can no longer be oval or flattened. That should knock blown diffusers on the head, but such is the rate of development in F1 that the front-running teams believe they’ve clawed back most of the downforce lost already…
Engine manufacturers devised ingenious ways to generate off-throttle exhaust gases in 2011 as they sought to maintain a constant flow of gas over the diffuser (see above). That meant the engine revved even when the driver was braking and had his foot off the throttle.
Strict new regulations governing engine mapping in 2012 mean this should be a thing of the past. When the drivers back off, so too will the engine revs and the amount of exhaust gases.
Front Wing Flex:
The FIA uses a static weight of 100kg to test the amount of give in the front wing. Last season the permitted amount of flex was 20mm, but the FIA had photographic evidence that the teams were getting the wings to flex by more than that at high speed. For 2012 they’ve reduced the amount of permitted flex to 10mm.
“There’s not much room to play with now,” says Red Bull Racing’s chief designer Rob Marshall. “You now have to make the wing as stiff as you physically can to get it through the FIA test.”
Thanks to a mid-race storm, last year's Canadian Grand Prix lasted an incredible 4hrs 4min 39s. As a result, the FIA has introduced a new limit of four hours for each race in 2012. Worst case scenario: the chequered flag will fall at 9pm in Melbourne!
Perhaps on the back of Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa’s numerous collisions in 2011, the FIA has issued a new driving standards directive this year. Drivers can only make one change of direction when defending a position and, when moving back onto the racing line, they must leave a car width between their car and the edge of the track. Do you think that’ll be the end of mid-race collisions?!
In the event of a Safety Car, the re-starts are going to be more exciting than ever this season. A change in the rules now allows lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car and re-join the back of the pack, leaving the leaders to run in race order and without the buffer of lapped cars between them. Makes you excited just thinking about it, doesn’t it?