Background: Race starts to be 'more varied'
20 March 2017 – Formula 1 drivers are braced for more variable getaways during the 2017 season due to new regulations governing the start procedure in the sport.
The FIA has been keen to place more control in the hands of the drivers, introducing a rule mid-2015 that the clutch bite point could not be altered once a car left the pit lane prior to the start.
This was done amid concerns that drivers were being controlled by engineers, detracting from the spectacle, and reducing the impact each racer could make.
For 2016, the regulations were tweaked further, with drivers forced to use a single clutch, a move which led to more action at the start, with Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg often dropping back.
The rules have been evolved once again for 2017, meaning drivers must fully engage the clutch themselves, rather than relying on external assistance from the engineers.
Sections of Article 9.2 of the revised Technical Regulations distributed by the FIA for 2017 have clarified the changes.
"Designs which allow specific points along the travel range of the clutch operating device to be identified by the driver or assist him to hold a position are not permitted," read the regulations.
"The minimum and maximum travel positions of the clutch operating device must correspond to the clutch fully engaged normal rest position and fully disengaged (incapable of transmitting any useable torque) positions respectively."
The summary of the regulation states that "any device or system which notifies the driver of the amount of clutch slip or engagement is not permitted".
A large number of drivers spent time conducting practice starts during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, in order to understand the new procedure.
"We are not anymore allowed to have any kind of system to aid us in term of how we release the clutch – it's manual," explained Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas.
"It has required a lot more practice; since mid-January we have been practicing, it requires more work, more attention. I did more starts than I've ever done in testing!
"I think it will be much more variable [at the start of races]."
"You just had to release [the paddle] between 10 per cent and 80 per cent," added Haas racer Magnussen, referring to race starts in 2016.
"Somewhere in there was a flat map that would be set to the grip, the tyres and fuel loads, so the start was 100 per cent up to the engineers.
"Last year you could have a bad start, but that was down to the engineer not having the torque right in the clutch and not calculating the grip and whatever right.
"You could react quickly to the lights as well, that made a difference, but except for that there's not much that was down to you really.
"Now it's all down to you to find the right amount of clutch torque for the grip so you are on the limit of wheelspin from the beginning as early as possible.
"That will be the ideal start, but it's very difficult."