With F1 drivers and teams only just getting used to the current rule changes it has become apparent that new rule changes are yet again going to affect the racing next season. Merchandise producers, sponsors and fans will see the cars becoming new beasts next year. Fundamentally the rule changes are simple; slick tires will be reintroduced, down force will be considerably diminished and the creation of energy recovery systems will give the cars extra boosts of power throughout racing.
F1 fans, sponsors and merchandise providers will hopefully see greater overtaking opportunities as a result of these new changes but overall it is estimated that lap times will become a few seconds slower. This never ending tinkering with the cars has been evident over the last few years as F1 chiefs attempt to make the racing more exciting, increasing the already large fan base.
In Barcelona last week the F1 drivers had their first chance to test some of these new developments, even if these tests were just simulations. The most widely tested changes were the new slick tyres instead of the current grooved dry weather tyres. This testing was not counted as part of their limited testing mileage for the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix.
Merchandise producers, sponsors and fans will not be happy to see that the computer simulations undertaken to quantify the effect that the new down force regulations, will actually slow the cars. It is currently estimated that reduced down force will lead to an average lap time to take almost three seconds slower. One benefit however, is that with slick tyres it has been surmised that two of these seconds may be regained.
Testing this week, rather than implement the new aerodynamic packages saw the adaptation of current systems to replicate the effects. By doing this the computer systems were proved to be a valid estimation. The 2009 regulations will create a standardised wing that will be less effective than the current wing designs in operation. The rules will go further to also limit the amount of down force gained by body shaping and the winglets that have become a prominent feature of the modern F1 car.
Merchandise suppliers, sponsors and fans will hopefully be jubilant at the effect that this reduction in down force causes. The plan is that by reducing these down force elements overtaking will become far more regular and hence, racing will be more exciting. Currently the 'dirty air' at the rear of an F1 car; or more simply turbulence, makes overtaking difficult and slipstreaming almost impossible. Instead of winglets and upper body aerodynamic features, the majority of down force created in 2009 will be from the underbody.
Naturally with the huge amount of funding that F1 drivers and teams receive from merchandise and sponsorship deals, simulations of these changes are in full flow. The use of wind tunnels has been extensive so F1 teams can find the best package that pushes the new regulations to their limit. The use of these wind tunnels has led to this weeks testing in Barcelona as teams knew how to set up the cars to levels of legal down force in 2009.
The energy recovery systems offering boost during races were not tested however, mainly due to the fact that the systems are not yet ready. They are supposed to recover energy under braking for use in the exit of corners or for overtaking. The effect of this new development is anyone's guess at this point, but undoubtedly tactics concerning when to use the power boosts will become apparent.
As the F1 drivers and teams moves to Spain all eyes will be on this year's race, but with so much talk of next years season already, it will almost certainly be a radically different occasion. With a new UK broadcaster and new sponsors and merchandise producers signing up in advance, the excitement of the racing is bound to be increased.