Rejected Shark Fin Ban Led to Ugly 2017 F1 Cars

ESPN’s uniform critic Paul Lukas has a simple test for grading the appeal of a new or revised design: “Is it good or is it stupid?” Sadly, the revamp of Formula One’s technical regulations for 2017 has produced a bunch of cars that fall squarely on the “stupid” side of the equation.

In January, an article on the official F1 website touted that, “The extensive regulation changes for the coming season mean that Formula One cars will be even more pleasing to the eye in 2017.”

And plenty of the new features do look good: lower rear wings, wider chassis, bigger tyres. The problem is that, according to Reuters’ Alan Baldwin, the teams rejected a Red Bull-proposed ban on the so-called shark fins—protrusions from the airboxes that were last seen in F1 back in 2011.

(Note: Shark fin is actually too cool a name for these eyesores, so we will go with the alternative airbox sail.)

It would have been relatively easy to include a ban on the sail in the new regulations, but instead we have yet another in a string of embarrassing errors for the sport’s regulators and unstrategic thinking from the Strategy Group.

It is difficult to express how disappointing the new cars are after months of hype about how great they were going to look. It reminds me of seeing Kingdom of Heaven when it was first released. The trailers looked awesome and I’d been looking forward to the film ever since I saw the first one, but sitting in the theatre, I didn’t know what the hell was happening.

It had all the elements to make a good movie, but it just wasn’t good. The same is true for this new generation of F1 cars. Maybe a year later, I was at the video store and noticed Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of the film. The changes were subtle, but it was a completely different movie. It was fantastic.

Mercedes, the three-time defending Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions (dontcha know?), were the only team to launch their 2017 challenger without an airbox sail, although even they added one for part of the first day of preseason testing on Monday in Barcelona (and they do have a small fin and ugly t-wing, but still…). The Mercedes W08 (sans fin) is the director’s cut; it shows what is possible under the new rules.

I didn’t think I would be hoping for a fourth straight title for the Silver Arrows, but if they end up being the only team without a sail, hopefully they mop the floor with everyone else, demonstrating that style and speed can coexist.

It should also be noted that Mercedes are one of the few teams to keep their noses clean, so to speak, without any of the exotic protuberances that have become so common since the maximum nose height was dropped. While we’re fixing the airbox regulations, can we also ban those weird noses? Force India’s would look more at home at the AVN Novelty Expo than on a race track.

Now, a quick perusal of Twitter suggests that some people do actually seem to like the look of the new cars. Either they are mentally blocking out the airbox sails or they are the type of people who think sneakers look good with a suit.

On the other hand, even the teams are embarrassed about the sails. Know how you can tell? Some are painted in contrasting colours and the teams did their best to have them blend into the backgrounds during their launches:

(Ironically, on the track, the cars with the airbox sails integrated into their overall colour schemes look better than the ones with them in contrasting colours—probably because they don’t stand out as much.)

It’s not all bad news on the F1 aesthetics front, though. The new Toro Rosso livery looks great and although McLaren’s splash of orange could have been executed better, at least it adds more colour to the grid. Sauber’s 25th anniversary livery is a mess, however. For some reason, they replaced yellow with gold, even though 25 is the silver anniversary and gold is 50.

On Tuesday, Fernando Alonso said, “I probably apologise to the fans that for the last five or six years they saw horrible cars,” per Autosport‘s Adam Cooper. Someone will probably be saying the same thing a year from now, once the sails are banned.


(Featured image via F1)

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