This piece was initially written in May for a run in a print magazine; however unfortunately was not published at the time. While things have moved on slightly as teams have gathered greater understanding of the aero updates, much of it is still relevant and worthwhile.
Without wishing to get too far ahead, I may soon be able to tell you more about the new-for-2018 Formula 2 car and engine package.
FIA EUROPEAN FORMULA 3 TECH UPDATE (May 2017)
Since our last Formula 3 technical update, there have been numerous sweeping changes to the F3 regulations. As budgets have risen to approximately €700,000-750,000 per season for a top drive (not including the Macau Grand Prix), teams have either struggled to find drivers or have simply resigned altogether.
With the aim of cutting costs, the FIA have outlawed individual windtunnel testing by teams, with the chassis manufacturer completing aero development work and delivering performance updates to the teams. The first result of this update came earlier this year in testing, when Dallara delivered a new package, which included a front wing with new endplates and outer front wing flaps; a new rear wing with an adjusted profile endplates and a new floor and diffuser designed to increase downforce and reduce drag. This has also increased the weight of the car by 15kg.
According to front-running one team principal, ‘the new floor has eased the instability at the rear of the car that the previous version had, making it easier to accelerate out of corners.’ The team boss also felt that this should help the field close up, as the new stability allows “lesser able” competitors find to get on the throttle much quicker on corner exit, with reduced risk of the back end stepping out.
There have also been safety modifications to the Dallara F317. The nose box has been pushed slightly back and the nose itself lowered to prevent cars getting airborne, while the front impact structure has been updated, resulting in an increase of the impact energy absorption by about 25 per cent. In line with Formula One safety regulations, additional secondary U-shaped intrusion panels have been added to the sides and bottom area on the front of the car.
The survival cell of the monocoque has been fitted with additional padding to protect drivers’ legs and wheel tethers have been upgraded to sustain forces of up to 6kJ instead of 4kJ, to further minimise the risk of wheels getting detached from the chassis in case of a crash. There will also now be data sharing between the teams, as the series aims to equalise opportunities for drivers in a category that has been won by a Prema Powerteam pilot every year since 2011.
According to Prema Powerteam racer Callum Ilott, the car which already had a reasonable amount of downforce now has even more. Ilott added, ‘the front wing is more efficient – this is noticeable – particularly this is coming from the end plates, while the new diffuser has improved the car.’
The teenager also noted that the weight increase of the car exaggerates the handling, amplifying the feel of oversteer. Ilott concluded by saying, ‘these are very small changes though – it doesn’t feel like a step change in handling. The effect overall on the car in the feeling is small but it has had the effect of closing the gap between all the teams at this point in the season.’
While the modifications are impressive, there have been some quiet criticisms regarding the cost of the complete update package, with comments that any savings made by windtunnel ban have been largely negated by the additional spend on the performance and safety update kit. The aforementioned team boss told me of a round figure of €45,000 or higher for the new kits, depending on how much a given F3 car needed to be updated. Personnel limits have also been placed on the teams, although it is believed that this likely mostly affected the likes of Hitech GP and to a lesser extent van Amersfoort Racing.
The European Championship has been reduced to five teams running nineteen drivers (as of the season opener at Silverstone) and while there have been rumours that British teams Fortec and T-Sport would re-enter should the right driver with the right budget appear, it is still the smallest field since the European Championship’s rebirth earlier this decade. Alas as it stands, both teams are currently stuck with cars in 2016 chassis configuration in their factory’s.