Formula One’s drivers are heading back to the gym this European winter to prepare for the increased physical demands of the ultra-fast cars to be introduced at Melbourne in 2017.
And while the drivers are slimming down for the task, they are set to drive machines that will be wider, quicker and produce more volume… and smash a few records on the way.
In short, Albert Park will see the debut of a new age of the ‘fat and furious’ when the F1® show lands in the city for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 26.
Fatter, faster and louder is the new legend for the sport as it prepares to head Down Under – with the lap record for Albert Park under serious threat.
The record currently stands at one minute and 24.125 seconds and was set by seven-time champion Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari in 2004.
But with the new cars forecast to be up to five or possibly even six seconds a lap faster next year than in 2016, it could be shattered in three months’ time.
Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery, who knows more than most about the likely performance of the big fat slick tyres that are due to make an emphatic comeback on the cars, reckons the drivers will feel as if they are running on rails.
“If you are cornering with that much grip and, if it's to be believed, up to five or six seconds a lap quicker, that clearly is going to be felt by the drivers in a dramatic fashion," he said.
“It could be driving on rails at that point. It could be so high the feeling is the car has such grip that it's more driving on rails rather than driving on the limit.
"We won't know until they get to the limits on track to understand where those limits actually are, but with that improvement in performance it's like going into another category of racing. It will be like jumping from GP2 into Formula One so it'll be almost like an F1® -plus compared to where we are now...”
In addition to the new tyres, the cars will have wider front and rear wings to help produce more down-force – which will initially compromise top speed on the straights but boost speed in the corners.
According to most paddock regulars and F1® insiders, the cars for 2017 will be not only be beasts of speed, but far more gorgeous than their predecessors.
Former Ferrari technical chief James Allison described the process earlier in 2016 and said he anticipated the arrival of machines that will be pleasing in every way.
Speaking at the FIA’s 2016 Sport Conference, he explained: “F1® teams focus completely on function over form and what it ends up looking like is just what it ends up looking like. However, all of us – or at least the vast majority of us – want our product to be beautiful and therefore we want regulations that inherently make the cars beautiful, so that when we set out to focus on function only, the regulations naturally produce beautiful cars.
“We’ve made a little bit of a step forward to get rid of the horrible looking noses of a couple of years ago and next year’s regulations are a very conscious effort to try to make the cars both unbelievably quick and also beautiful.
“The proportions of next year’s cars are very appealing. For those of us who are lucky enough to be seeing them as they get created, they look nice. I’m looking forward to seeing them racing.”
Already this air of anticipation has generated great excitement for drivers, teams and fans.
Test driver Sebastien Buemi, of Red Bull, has experienced the new tyres and worked in development stages and in the simulator on the ‘fat and furious’ beasts of 2017.
Some new drivers, the Swiss suggested, may be “scared to jump into the car” because of the huge performance generated.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Red Bull said: ““It’s not a secret we will need to do a step in our physical condition for next year. Already, in Malaysia this year, we were in qualifying nearly as fast as the lap record… and the race, because of the tarmac change, was three-to-four seconds per lap quicker than last year and you could already feel it.”
The pre-season physical preparations required by F1® drivers will be perhaps the most important block of training time since the mid 2000s.
This may turn out to be especially tough for the youngest drivers – several with late adolescent musculature still maturing – who have recently made their F1 debuts or will be in Melbourne.
Sainz, who began his F1® career in 2015, said he will enjoy the challenge.
“It means more time in the gym, more time on a bike – but it means that also in the race a physical limitation comes into play and it’s where you can make the difference.
“So, I will welcome it. Also the challenge of driving a faster car is always more difficult, always more selective with drivers, so it can only be good for F1® .”
One man not planning on any extra time in gym is Williams technical chief Pat Symonds. He said he will be pleased to see a return to ‘proper racing cars’.
“The cars are pretty good looking -- like a proper racing car,” he said. “It's got very big rear tyres on it and it doesn't look retro, which is a thing I was worried about."
The rate of development in F1® produced records in Bahrain and Austria and saw newly-crowned retired world champion Nico Rosberg lower the pole time by more than two seconds in Hungary.
The fastest race lap at Albert Park in 2016 was set by Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull in 1:28.997 – and so… if he can managed to trim that by around five seconds, he could become the fastest man ever at his home event.
But will all this speed mean better overtaking? And more dramatic racing? For now, the jury is out, but Symonds has warned: “The truism is that the more down-force you've got on the car, the more you're going to be affected by the wake of another car.”
And Lewis Hamilton, the three-time champion who will be keener than ever to regain his crown, added: “I think we need more mechanical grip and less aero wake coming off the back of the cars so we can get close and overtake.
“Give us five seconds' worth of lap time from aero and nothing will change - we'll just be driving faster."