Leading drivers in Formula One, including Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, assembled here for the Russian Grand Prix, have again criticised the regulation changes set for next season and the direction the sport is taking.
These long-debated modifications are aimed at improving F1 in terms of speed and competition across the field but drivers fear they will prove a hindrance to overtaking. The process is due to be completed by a ratification via e-vote by the F1 commission on Friday.
“My view hasn’t changed,” Hamilton said. “When you change something but you know it’s not going to make a difference, you hope that you are wrong. You hope that the engineers who know what’s going to happen – just like they knew with the qualifying – you hope they are proven wrong. If they aren’t, then we’re stuck in that period for three years and for the fans it doesn’t get any better.”
The three-times world champion has been explicit in his opposition to the proposed changes to the cars – with the purpose of making them five seconds a lap faster as well as harder to drive and more aggressive looking – arguing the aerodynamic adjustments for 2017 would create more downforce but increase the difficulty of cars closing with one another in dirty air.
“We need more mechanical grip and less aero wake coming off the back of the cars so we can get close and overtake,” Hamilton said in March. “Give us five seconds’ worth of lap time from aero and nothing will change. We’ll just be driving faster.”
The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association issued a statement expressing dissatisfaction last month and Button was one of the drivers who contributed to a letter on the direction of the sport, requested by the FIA president, Jean Todt, to be read at a meeting of F1’s strategy group and the F1 commission on Tuesday.
“We don’t want to run the sport, we’d be pretty rubbish at it,” Button said. “But our opinions are important because we drive the cars and the fans agree with what we say and what we feel. We don’t have any ulterior motives, we just want the sport to be in as good a shape as it possibly can. I read so many messages about the sport and there are very negative comments, more negative than positive.”
There is, however, an air of resignation already around the drivers’ fears. The aero changes to which they object have already been passed and it is only the engine regulations, covering cost, supply, noise and imposing a performance convergence, that will be ratified over this race weekend. They will then go to the World Motor Sport Council during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend but the WMSC can only accept or reject them, not make modifications.
Hamilton was also critical of the latest cockpit windshield that Red Bull will test on behalf of the FIA in first practice on Friday. The FIA is fully committed to bringing in some form of cockpit protection for 2017 and Ferrari used the halo design on their car in pre-season testing.
“That screen looks so bad. It looks like a bloody riot shield,” he said. “You’ve got this cool, elegant futuristic Formula One car and you’ve got a riot shield sitting on top of it.” He had previously described the halo design as the worst-looking modification in F1 history and in Sochi, while he acknowledged the need to pursue safety advances, insisted that danger was inherent within F1.
“When I get in that car, I know that there is a danger,” he said. “That’s been the same since I started when I was eight years old. That’s a risk that I am willing to take and that every single driver that’s ever got in the car has been willing to take.”
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