Should Formula 1's 2017 Regulation Changes Be Delayed Until the 2018 Season?

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2016

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari leads Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari into the second corner during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Lars Baron/Getty Images

The vast majority of us, it seems, are expecting McLaren-Honda to embark upon something of a resurgence in the 2016 Formula One season.

After enduring their worst season in 35 years in 2015, when Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were restricted to just six points finishes between them and the team tumbled to second-bottom in the constructors' championship, surely the only way is up.

Surely McLaren and Honda, who conquered all before them in the glory days of the late 1980s and early '90s, are just too good to stay too down for too long, and the lessons learned over the course of that humbling 2015 campaign will be put into practice in the upcoming season.

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 18:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 18, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Yet while Button, per Sky Sports' James Galloway, has promised that McLaren are heading in "the right direction" and will make "massive strides" over the winter, Pedro de la Rosa—one of the team's modern-day icons, having provided countless years of service as a test driver—has warned us not to expect too much in 2016.

As he told AS (h/t, the best they can hope for is regular appearances in the third segment of qualifying and a podium finish. These would resemble progress of sorts—the team failed to reach Q3 at all in 2015 and have just one podium appearance since 2012—but are hardly targets you would associate with a team of McLaren's heritage.

Rather than trying to fight Mercedes and Ferrari in a losing battle, the team, De la Rosa added, should prioritise "their 2017 car-engine package from the very start of the 2016 campaign," making a head start on the new regulations and ensuring they benefit from a fresh start in 2017.

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As McLaren's test driver for a number of years, De la Rosa knows a thing or two about fine-tuning race-winning F1 cars.
As McLaren's test driver for a number of years, De la Rosa knows a thing or two about fine-tuning race-winning F1 cars.CESAR RANGEL/Getty Images

As demeaning as it would be for McLaren to simply write off 2016 before the season even begins, sacrificing yet more short-term pain for long-term gain would arguably be the most sensible way for the team to plot their route back to the summit of the sport.

But there appears to be quite a significant flaw in De la Rosa's logic: Just what exactly are the 2017 regulations?

It is roughly 12 months until F1's latest season of change begins, but the revised rules—including changes to the front and rear wings, chassis dimensions and wider tyres, which are intended to make the cars around five seconds per lap quicker—are still yet to be rubber-stamped, continuing to exist only as artists' impressions. 

And when so many notable and highly experienced paddock figures have openly questioned the direction F1 is heading for in 2017, the delay in finalising the new rules package suggests there is more confusion than confidence in the current proposals.

At the end of last season, for instance, three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton told Sky Sports' Mike Wise how increasing aerodynamic downforce was "the worst idea" when it came to improving the racing, claiming it proved the brains behind the rules "don't really know what they're trying to solve."

His view was supported by Martin Brundle, the former grand prix driver, who told the same source that the engineers charged with the task of creating the new regulations—presumably eager to have their own little influence on the direction of their sport—simply "won't listen to the drivers."

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton rides on the float before the start of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit on November 29, 2015.   / AFP / Tom Gandolfini        (Photo credit should read TOM GANDOLF

And the concerns aren't just limited to those behind the wheel, with Red Bull's Adrian Newey, one of the greatest technical minds in the history of F1, telling the National's Ahmed Rizvi that the proposals are "actually not that different to what we have now" with "no really fundamental differences."

At a time when F1 is receiving criticism for anything and everything, from the generally unpopular V6 turbo power units to the dwindling television audiences, there is a feeling the rule makers have been hurried into creating these plans without the two basic requirements of any worthwhile regulation changes: enhancing the spectacle and reshuffling the competitive order.

As they currently stand, the 2017 regulations are, to all intents and purposes, minor cosmetic procedures. Change for change's sake. Style with very little substance.

Even Pat Symonds, one of the men behind the proposed regulations, is not convinced the changes will succeed.
Even Pat Symonds, one of the men behind the proposed regulations, is not convinced the changes will succeed.Drew Gibson/Getty Images

It is why Pat Symonds' recent admission, per's Adam Cooper, that he feels "rushed," "pressurised" and that F1 should spend "a year really researching what's needed" rather than moving "a little bit too quickly without establishing the basic principles to work from" should be taken increasingly seriously.

The last two regulation overhauls in 2009 and 2014, after all, were drafted several years in advance of their introduction (in December 2006 and June 2011 respectively), and it reveals much about F1's desperation to impress that a sport so meticulous could fast-track a set of new rules without serious, considered thought.

As McLaren's Jonathan Neale told James Roberts in a print edition of F1 Racing magazine, the FIA may leave it as close as possible to the February 28 deadline to publish the 2017 regulations to stop larger teams taking "an immediate advantage," following the sudden rise of the Brawn GP and Mercedes outfits in '09 and 2014.

Yet a late confirmation may also have a detrimental effect, forcing teams to rush the designs of their new cars, thus running the risk of a low-quality field and denying the likes of Red Bull, Renault and, of course, McLaren the time they may require to manufacture their return to the very front of the grid.

And what of the smaller, independent teams, who will soon be forced to decide whether to persist with the development of their 2016-specification machinery or to focus their resources on the all-new concepts?

Since last July, when the Formula One Strategy Group (via the FIA's official website) vowed to introduce "faster and more aggressive looking cars" as soon as possible, there has always been a sense that 2017 will be the year.

The year of change, the year F1, having spent several seasons alienating its core fanbase, finally comes to its senses and brings itself back to the people.

As Symonds told Cooper, it seems the anticipation surrounding 2017 and all it might bring has gone beyond the point of no return. Unless the new rules are almost guaranteed to succeed and receive near-universal approval, however, the sport could distance itself more than ever before from even its most loyal supporters.

The regulation changes should offer F1 a golden opportunity to become fashionable again, and it would be unforgivable if it were to be wasted through sheer impatience and frustration with the current rules.

Be careful what you wish for...