What’s New For 2012?
Despite the raft of “ugly” noses that appeared as 2012’s new cars were revealed, there have been few changes to the technical regulations. Instead, it is new (and not so new) names that mark the biggest change on the grid this season with a series of driver changes as well as Lotus becoming Caterham, Renault going the other direction and Virgin now Marussia. So what other changes should you look out for in 2012?
Visually, the biggest change to the cars are the lowered noses. This is to ensure that all parts of the nose are definitely below the height of the cockpit sides in the event of a T-Bone type of crash. The result is that most teams have resorted to a step change in order to maintain airflow under the nose – thank heavens that McLaren and Marussia bucked the trend.
2011 was the year of blown diffusers. However, the FIA have attempted to stamp out the idea as teams were deliberately sacrificing fuel economy in the name of downforce – not the environmental message that the Federation wanted to project. For 2012, the exhaust must exit in a prescribed box that is in a similar location to the top exit exhausts of circa 2008. It is also subjected to particular exit angles and diameter as a means of providing further restriction. This does not mean that exhaust generated downforce is a thing of the past, however – designers will be working hard to reclaim as much of the effect as possible.
Side Impact Protection
To give better protection to the driver in the event that a car T-bones him from the side, the intrusion panel has been increased in height. There have also been changes to the energy absorbing structures on the sides of the cars along with increased side impact testing.
Pirelli have made a number of changes to their tyres in order to maintain the exciting racing that was produced early in 2011. Featuring a squarer profile to increase the contact area, the compounds are also softer. There are also changes to the tyre markings with the intermediate now marked in green and the blue tyre now designating the full wet tyre. The silver used on the hard tyres is also darker to better differentiate it from the white medium compound – more information on Pirelli’s changes can be found here. There are also changes to the way tyres are used – most notably that a set of dry-weather tyres may now be carried over to Saturday if both Friday sessions are declared wet. In the other direction, they can now use more than three sets of tyres on the Friday, say if they’re expecting Saturday free practice to be wet.
Recent seasons has seen the nose cameras located in a manner clearly aimed at promoting the performance of the front wing rather than to deliver effective TV pictures. A new article has been introduced to ensure a minimum standard for the field of view of any nose mounted camera with a similar minor change made to the roll hoop camera location.
After a fairly quiet driver market in recent seasons, 2012 sees a major mix up even if nothing has changed in the front four teams. Most notable is the return of World Champion Kimi Raikkonen with Lotus, however, there will also be three French drivers on the grid in Melbourne – Romain Grosjean, Jean-Eric Vergne and Charles Pic – but no Italians as Jarno Trulli departs. There are also returns for Pedro de la Rosa and Nico Hulkenberg while Daniel Ricciardo gets his first serious chance after a placement at HRT towards the end of last year.
Perhaps controversially, the Bahrain Grand Prix is set to rejoin the Formula One calendar but the bigger news should be the return of the US Grand Prix in November with a new home at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas.
Clarification of Driving Standards
As part of the FIA’s continuing attempt to formalise driving etiquette, they’ve sought to clarify what is allowed when defending position: “More than one change of direction is not permitted. Any driver moving back towards the racing line, having earlier defended his position off-line, should leave at least one car width between his own car and the edge of the track.” Tape measures at the ready, folks!
Safety Car Procedure
Formula One is returning to allowing lapped cars to pass the safety car and join up at the back of the pack. With cars allowed to pit under the safety car since the refuelling ban, unlapping had been scrapped as it was difficult to manage and potentially dangerous. Now, once they’ve passed the pitlane entry twice to allow for pitstops, backmarkers can overtake the safety car. Good news for them, bad news for the race leader who’s just lost his 30 second lead and a helpful buffer of backmarkers…