The wider cars, with bigger wings and bulkier tyres, have been introduced as a way of making F1 look more spectacular and get back to record high speeds of the past.
But one of the consequences of such a big overhaul of the rules is that the richer teams will be better able to make the most of the development race – which could mean big gaps between the front and the back of the grid.
Former Williams technical director Patrick Head told The Guardian: “If anybody was thinking of these rules with the aim of closing the field up then they’ve got rocks in their head.”
He added: “Any time you make significant changes the advantage will always go to the bigger teams. Because they have more resources, they have more capability to parallel develop their existing car and work on design of their new car.
“When you have 750 employees or more against, say, Force India’s 300, of course the bigger teams can do more. Any idea it will close the field up is nonsense.”
Teams in groups
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery, whose company has been given team data to help prepare its tyre specifications, concurs that there will be a spread of teams, even though one or two may be close to each other.
“We have some estimates of data, and I guess we will all see in Melbourne,” Hembery told Motorsport.com. “There are groups of people that are very close, but there is a spread.
“It is a tough challenge for the teams. Even from an engine point of view, you get more drag, and some of them have been worried about consumption at some events, so they have been working on that. If you have more drag then you need a strong engine to minimise that impact.
“The engine will still have a major part to play – but the aero changes are so dramatic that you would have to imagine that there will be a few surprises. Someone could come up with a Brawn double diffuser type concept – or something else that nobody else has seen in the regulations.
“You just don’t know until you start racing. The top ten is going to be very crowded. Will someone get a step ahead? You would have to say yes, that has always been the case when there is a big regulation change. So you would have to imagine that will be the case again.”
Head agrees that although the focus of the rule changes have been on aero, engine power will be even more important this year.
“There is no doubt about it that the drag levels of the car will be higher,” he said.
“But what makes the engine fractionally more important is that with more downforce, which they will undoubtedly have, your percentage at full throttle – the percentage of the lap at which you are power limited rather than grip limited – will be higher, so if you have that bit more power it will give a slight advantage.”
Head is sceptical, however, about whether or not the racing will be any better with the new rules.
“If they wanted a formula that allowed for more overtaking without using artificial aids like DRS then they needed to go for a formula that reduced downforce levels but they have gone in the opposite direction,” he said.
“We’ll just have to wait and see. If they’re not successful, they’ll probably have another go.”