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Formula 1 2018: Faster Tires, Fewer Engines... and a Halo

Matthew Knight
March 12, 2018

If 2017 was about revolution, the new Formula One season will be about evolution.

Last year brought in F1's biggest changes for more than a decade with fatter tires and bigger, more aggressive-looking car chassis resulting in lap records being broken at 11 of the 20 grands prix. The upcoming season, which starts in Melbourne on March 25, will be one of refinement as teams and drivers get to grips with comparatively minor cosmetic tweaks by comparison.

Nevertheless, changes to both F1's sporting and technical regulations will likely play a pivotal role in the outcome of both drivers' and constructors' title races in 2018. 

Here, with the help of F1 technical analyst Craig Scarborough, CNN's The Circuit takes a look at some of the key changes and how it could affect the pecking order.


In 2017, regulations from the FIA, motorsport's governing body, made the tires bigger and 25% wider, harking back to the 1970s and 1980s. 

The fatter tires offered more grip and speed through corners, giving drivers a heightened thrill through famous turns like Silverstone's Maggots and Becketts and Suzuka's epic 130R.

This year, Pirelli has rolled the dice again, expanding the choice of slick tires from five to seven with two brand new compounds, Superhard and Hypersoft. 

The Hypersoft, denoted by a pink strip on the tire wall, and improvements to existing tires are expected to make F1 cars even quicker than they were in 2017.

"It's going to add lots of speed to the car," Scarborough told CNN.

"Tires is one of the areas where you can very easily put performance on the car ... lap times will absolutely tumble and records will be set all the time.

"I think at some of the slightly more aero-focused tracks - Silverstone (Britain), Red Bull Ring (Austria), Spa (Belgium) - we could see some pretty stunning laps times this year." 

Pirelli has made all its tire compounds slightly softer this year meaning they should degrade more quickly, and, in theory, complicate race strategies. 

"What Pirelli has done this year with the wider range of compounds and this Hypersoft tire is that they've made the entire range of tires much softer and much more short lived. 

"What we're hoping is that we get tires that aren't going to last half a race and we can get back to people deciding between harder tires and a one-stop race or softer tires and two-stop strategy.

"It's trying to bring back some of the variability in tire strategy that was lacking a bit in 2017 but had worked so well in 2016."


In a bid to keep costs from spiraling even further out of control the FIA has ruled that each driver will have just three engines for this season's expanded 21-race calendar.

Research suggests that teams spent a combined total of £1.3 billion ($1.8 billion) in 2016. 

In 2018, the challenge remains the same, balancing reliability and performance, but with one less power unit the stakes are raised.

"It's potentially going to have a huge impact on the championship result this year across the spectrum from last to first," Scarborough said. 

"Honda have clearly had issues with reliability, Renault also, while Ferrari have been much better as an entire package although they have had problems," Scarborough notes, pointing to the Italian team's troubles at the Malaysian and Japanese Grands Prix weekends.

Some teams have been openly critical of the reduction - notably McLaren and Red Bull which claim it's a false economy. 

"There will be plenty of grid penalties (in 2018) and what you would hate to have is a championship decided on grid penalties," Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner said in December.

"We are getting to the point where with 21 races for three engines - it is nuts, really."

The change will likely favor Mercedes which has reigned supreme in the hybrid turbo era.

"Mercedes were able to come in with almost the perfect engine in 2014 - the right layout, how the combustion was going to work out, they had the hybrid system control strategies worked out and how to get more power out of the engine during qualifying," Scarborough explains. 

"Because they were ahead of the curve they had reliability as well. They've had the perfect engine whereas Ferrari, Renault and Honda didn't get the design right first time so in subsequent years they've been trying to play catch up."

The German team has built a new engine for 2018 which could misfire, but given its recent track record that seems unlikely.


One more obvious, and staggeringly unpopular change to the 2018 cars, comes in the shape of the halo.

The now mandatory cockpit safety device has been designed to help protect drivers from large bits of flying debris. 

The general view is perhaps best summed up by McLaren's Fernando Alonso.

"I know that from the aesthetic point of view it's a big impact ... but I don't want to have any more fatal injuries," Alonso told CNN last summer.

First mooted in 2015, the halo has been rigorously tested and will be able to withstand extreme impacts.

The halo was devised by a Mercedes team engineer (although it is not an official design of the German team) and was chosen ahead of Red Bull's "Aeroscreen" and Ferrari's "Shield."

The FIA readily admits that although the halo is far from perfect it is an important step forward in safety. 

"It's quite obvious that the drivers head is the only piece left exposed on the car in the event of lots of different types of accidents," Scarborough said. 

"On balance, it's an increase in safety. None of us want to see a driver killed live on TV or in testing. 

"At the end of the day, safety has always increased and it's always had a negative impact to some degree. You lose something - goggles, helmets, rollover protection, fuel tanks being moved, the side cockpit protection. Lots of things have taken the driver away from visibility."

Scarborough says that there are better solutions on the horizon, and suggests the halo could offer TV fans new, improved views of races. 

"The halo is a compromise - an interim step to get us safer in the short term before bigger regulation changes come in 2021," he says.

"Hopefully they'll put some of the onboard cameras on the halo itself so we could look down on the driver rather that just the angles over his shoulder."


Tweaks to the sporting and technical regulations may be slight compared to 2017 but the impact could be major.

It's hard to look past Mercedes continuing its dominance - the German team has claimed four back-to-back titles since 2014 - but Scarborough expects Ferrari and Red Bull to push it all the way.

"I think Ferrari still have a step up in performance to find with the entire package for this year. Engine-wise they will be very, very close," he said.

"I think the safe money is with Mercedes to win from Red Bull from Ferrari with Force India in fourth.

"Beyond that, the midfield is so unpredictable this year. Williams are looking really weak all of a sudden. Sauber could do a good job - they've got the right engine (the Swiss-based team will be powered by Ferrari 2018-spec engines) and they've got (reigning F2 champion) Charles Leclerc in the car. 

"Renault were really putting down some speed late last year and McLaren could make a step. It could be McLaren or Renault trying to jump ahead of Force India. It's a bit crazy."

This article was originally published on CNN. Read the original article here.

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