What's new for 2018?

After the rules revolution of 2017 – one that saw F1 cars become wider and faster – this season’s changes are relatively few in number. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they aren’t important – and some will be very obvious indeed…

Technical regulations:
- T-wings and shark-fin style engine covers outlawed
- halo cockpit protection device mandatory
- suspension systems that could alter the car’s aero performance over a lap not allowed

Sporting regulations:
- drivers allowed three rather than four power units per season
- simplified grid penalties for power unit changes
- wider range of dry tyre compounds

IN DETAIL - Technical
Goodbye to T-wings and shark fins

When the teams considered the 2017 regulation changes, as always they were looking for what wasn’t written in the rules – ie the loopholes – as well as what was. The emergence of the extended, shark-finned engine covers, combined with the rather ungainly looking T-wings, was the result of one such loophole – but one that has been closed for 2018.

The blocks in red above show where developments were forbidden - but as you can see the small, central space in between had no restrictions and the teams took full advantage, leading to some extreme solutions. Williams employed a double T-wing, while the likes of Force India (top drawing), Renault and McLaren took things further, experimenting with multiple planes. The purpose of the T-wing was to better direct airflow to the main rear wing, and in some cases to create a little additional downforce.

With the shark fins and T-wings outlawed for 2018, we can expect the rear of this season’s new cars to look more like that tested by Sauber in Austin back in October of last year, illustrated below. The engine cover still features a fin of sorts, but nothing like the huge swathes of carbon fibre we saw in 2017.


Hello to halos

The one change every F1 fan will immediately notice in 2018 is the introduction of the halo – the cockpit protection device designed to further improve driver safety in the event of an accident, and in particular to deflect debris away from the head.

The design of the halo, which we have seen teams trialling in practice and test sessions over the past two seasons, is not dissimilar to the original study carried out by Mercedes at the FIA’s request in 2015, with a central pillar supporting a 'loop' around the driver's head.  

Though the halo is mandatory, with its core design dictated by the rules, there will be some scope for teams to modify its surface, so don’t be surprised to see a variety of small aero devices adorning this new addition.

The figures in the drawing above indicate the impact forces, in kilonewtons, that the halo must withstand in each direction to pass the required FIA static load tests. This is an area which has occupied a lot of the teams' time, not least because they would ideally like to keep the mountings as low-weight as possible.

The overall minimum weight of cars has gone up by 6kg to 734kg to compensate for the introduction of the halo, but it's estimated that the actual impact of the device plus the mountings could be as much as 14kg, which will leave teams with less room to play with when it comes to performance ballast - and also put heavier drivers at a potential disadvantage...


Trick suspension outlawed

Another small, but potentially important directive issued by the FIA ahead of the 2018 season relates to trick suspension systems which could be used to improve a car’s aerodynamic performance. 

Last year teams including Red Bull (above) and Ferrari (below) tried set-ups with a small link in the front suspension connected to the upright, believed to cleverly allow the ride height of the car - a key factor in aero performance - to be varied over the course of a lap depending on steering angle. The FIA has since decreed such systems will not be allowed.


IN DETAIL - Sporting
Three engines per season

In a bid to make F1 power units even more reliable - and further reduce costs - this season each driver must make do with just three engines for the 21-race campaign. That compares with four engines last year (when, incidentally, the calendar featured one less Grand Prix). However, when it comes to some components - such as the Control Electronics (or CPU), Energy Store (or Battery) and MGU-K - the teams will have just two at their disposal.

The exact impact this has remains to be seen, though treading the fine line between performance and durability will certainly be tougher than ever: go too conservative and you’ll fall off the pace; go too aggressive and you risk costly failures and grid penalties – though those too have been changed for 2018 (see below).

One less engine per season will also mean one less chance per season for teams to introduce significant power unit upgrades – meaning those who best manage their development programme over the course of the year could stand to reap even bigger rewards...

Simpler grid penalties

One less engine per driver could mean more grid penalties in 2018. However, there will be far less confusion for fans over how those penalties impact the starting order.

Under the previous system, drivers changing multiple power unit elements could rack up multiple grid drops, often in excess of the number of cars at the event.

Now, any driver who earns a grid penalty of 15 places or more will have to start from the back of the 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 they changed elements. That should mean less headaches for fans - and those at the FIA tasked with deciding the grid!

Wider range of tyre compounds

As in 2017, official F1 tyre suppliers Pirelli will make three dry-weather compounds available to teams at each Grand Prix. However, for 2018 those three will be selected from a broader range of compounds, which now includes the new, pink-marked hypersoft at one end of the spectrum and the orange-marked superhard at the other.

It means in total there will be seven, rather than the previous five, slick tyre compounds, all of which are a step softer than in 2017, making them the fastest tyres in Formula 1 history. Reports based on initial data suggest they could immediately mean cars going a second per lap quicker.

Also new for 2018 is the ice blue colour of the hard compound. This frees up orange to be used on the aforementioned superhard, denoting it as the very hardest choice available in Pirelli’s range. The 2018 range in full is: hypersoft (pink), ultrasoft (purple), supersoft (red), soft (yellow), medium (white), hard (blue), superhard (orange).

Depending on how Pirelli choose to select compounds, the general move towards softer rubber should make 2018’s racing even more exciting, with more pit stops and fewer one-stop Grands Prix.

Possibility for standing starts after red flags

Last year F1 introduced new rules allowing for standing starts to be used when a race has begun in adverse conditions behind the Safety Car. This year, though that procedure has not yet been used in a race situation, another re-start rule has been added to the regulations, with race control now having the option to send drivers back to the starting grid following red flag stoppages, rather than re-starting behind the Safety Car.