Bob McMurray: Time to show the cards
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Today is the first day of the new season for the Formula 1 circus.
Yes, I know the cars have been tested in Barcelona and were on track on Friday but today is the first time in the season that all the cards, or whatever cards a team has to play with, will be on show.
I also know any team mechanic, designer or engineer, will say that the season 2018 started just a few days after season 2017 finished.
But today success, deficiencies and failure will all be there to see.
Qualifying brings the best out in teams and drivers.
It is a fascinating time in the sport.
So just what has changed?
For a start, the cars are 6kg heavier this year at 733kg minimum, including the driver.
This is mainly to accommodate the extra allowance for the “thing” around the cockpit, which weighs more than twice that amount — some estimates say up to 14kg.
In turn, that means teams cannot use all the strategically placed ballast to bring the car up to weight, which also means the larger drivers have to lose weight.
That is not going to be easy as many are already on subsistence diets to try to keep their personal weight to a minimum.
In terms of bodywork, gone is the universally disliked “T” wing sitting on the back of the large “shark fin” engine cover — which has also been cut down to a more modest and aesthetically pleasing size.
As F1 engineers are apt to do, they look for loopholes in the regulations, and the FIA then moves to close those loopholes.
Suspension has always been a target for finding loopholes and a new regulation outlaws the practice of the suspension-controlled ride height of the car changing with the steering angle of the wheels.
Basically, this means that as the car turns a corner, the suspension drops, resulting in more front-wing downforce being applied. Clever, but now illegal.
It looks like there will be more of those ridiculous grid penalties applied, with the teams having only three engines for the 21-race season instead of the 2017 allowance of four over 20 races.
However, the system of grid penalties has been modified.
According to the FIA “whereby if a driver incurs a penalty exceeding 15 grid places he will be required to start the race from the back of the starting grid. If more than one driver receives such a penalty they will be arranged at the back of the grid in the order in which the offences were committed”.
That should simplify things.
Pirelli has jumped on the confusion bandwagon with a mind-boggling array of tyres.
Nine different varieties with as many brightly coloured sidewalls — from the new hypersoft tyre in a fetching pink colour to a delightful midnight blue wet-weather tyre at the other end of the spectrum.
Then we come to the halo, aka the Jandal, the flip-flop and a couple of other names that are best left unsaid in polite company.
For the record it has not, as many people speculated, become unnoticeable.
It is still an ugly gargoyle mocking the beauty of the car.
Despite its looks — and I am sure over time the teams will learn ways of using it to their aerodynamic advantage — this safety-inspired carbuncle is an incredibly strong, well-engineered piece of equipment.
Built to withstand, allegedly, anything that can be thrown at it, I guess it may, in time fold into the look of a “normal” car.
The forces it is built to withstand are extreme. A force from the front of 83kN, and a lateral load of 93kN and a maximum downward load of 116kN. In simple terms, 1kN (kiloNewton) is roughly the equivalent of 100kg of load.
The halo is designed to deflect a strike by a 20kg object (such as a wheel) hitting around 225km/h.
As the season rolls on, let us hope that those parameters are never tested.