Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations

With the 2021 regulations finally being approved, the WTF1 team sat down to have a chat about what we do and don't like about what's to come

The big news of the week came when the FIA World Motorsport Council unanimously voted through the framework for the 2021 regulations, leading to the confirmation of some of the main details regarding the changes.

It’s a lot to take in, so we thought we’d throw in our thoughts on what’s been announced. The WTF1 team - Tommy (‘The Founder’), Matty (Presenter), Dan (Editor) and Jess (Head of WTF1) - got together to discuss their own personal thoughts on some of the key issues, along with anything else they wanted to bring up. Let’s dive in!

The Performance And Aerodynamics

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations - Formula 1

Dan
I’m not too bothered about the heavier cars and prediction of them being slower - good racing is good racing, regardless of speed - but the numbers coming out about the reduction in dirty air are really promising. 2019 cars apparently lose as much as 40 per cent of their downforce when following another; in 2021 that number is planned to go down as low as five per cent. If it works, great - we’ll see closer racing and potentially more overtaking, and it may even reach the point where DRS can hopefully be binned altogether. My only concern is that once the engineers start properly looking at the regulations and finding ways to claw back the lost downforce, things like dirty air and aerodynamic sensitivity will end up being closer to the way things are at the moment than the intention of the regulations.

Tommy
Ultimately it’s how the cars race which is important to me. There’s nothing more frustrating in F1 than the constant talk of dirty air and watching cars go around with two-second gaps between them. If the numbers are correct (in Ross Brawn we trust!) and cars lose 5 per cent downforce and not 40 per cent as they do now, then the racing should be amazing! I’ve seen a few comments that the cars will be slower but who cares? If we get more overtaking, what are three seconds of lap time? Sure these new cars break records but give me the racing in 2012 over what we’ve got now any day!

Jess
Cars are set to be heavier and slower by around three seconds… but that’s no bad thing. While we all love watching the cars travel at impossible speeds down the Baku straight, the focus on speed over racing has been a real downfall of the recent design. If the racing is close and hard, there should be plenty for fans and drivers to be excited about. Speed isn’t everything. Plus I’m sure teams are going to be scraping back those additional three seconds once they start development.

Matty
If a 2021 F1 car can follow another car much better, then sign me up. It doesn’t bother me at all that the cars are predicted to be three seconds slower… as long as closer, better racing comes from the changes then I’m all for it. I’m still slightly hesitant to believe all I’m hearing about the percentages that are being flown about because we all know the loopholes that F1 teams have found with aerodynamics in the past; let’s hope they don’t find them this time!

The Weekend Restructure

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations - Formula 1

Matty
I wish they’d done more with this. I don’t really see much of a difference for the strain on teams by moving things to Friday. It may just make it more jam-packed and stressful with drivers and personnel having to cram everything into three days rather than four. A little rejig of how practice works would’ve been nice but then how do you sell tickets to a Friday for just the one practice session?

Tommy
I’m probably one of the only people who wanted to see a reverse grid qualifying race [I did too! - Dan] but I’m not surprised it didn’t happen. I would have liked them to mix up the weekend structure from race to race so I’m disappointed that nothing has changed that much. I’d have at least wanted to see practice reduced, there have been so many examples recently of reduced practice time making for better races.

Jess
I don’t see how this is going to make a lot of difference to anyone other than the media. With more back-to-back races, teams will still likely have to stay away from home in between rounds anyway.

Teams also have contracted driver hours with their main sponsors that, currently, are either fulfilled on Wednesdays and/or Thursdays before a race weekend or in-between rounds. Meaning unless this changes too, drivers and comms teams will still have to be on the ground before Friday.

Dan
I’m actually a bit disappointed that they’ve just chosen to compress the weekend rather than adjust the track action. Yeah, knocking a day off and putting the press conference on Friday instead of Thursday may help to ease the strain on teams with the ever-expanding calendar, but I was kinda hoping we’d get a chop in practice time. Maybe just by making it one Friday practice session, or having two shorter ones on Saturday ahead of qualifying.

I know a lot of people like practice because it means more of an opportunity to watch the cars, but I wouldn’t miss it - and I think the negative of losing practice sessions would be more than offset by the improved racing it might bring.

The Looks

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations - Formula 1

Jess
IT LOOKS AWESOME 😍. No further comment needed. Can’t wait to see the liveries that will come with the new design.

It seems the term ‘rubbing is racing’ might actually become more than just a tagline in this new era of F1. Not only is the simplified aero design meant to allow for following, but to also make the cars more robust… insert Kvyat torpedo memes. Overall, I think this is a smart move. Currently, the slightest touch can ruin a driver’s race, and scenes of flying carbon and bodywork often make a small incident look way bigger than it actually is.

Having more robust cars might end up making the lives of the stewards easier. If races aren’t ruined each time there’s contact then there’s less of a need to penalise, and more opportunity to just let the drivers race. My only concern here is the first generation of Formula E cars were almost comically robust (remember Andre Lotterer riding Jean-Eric Vergne’s rear wing in Santiago 2018?) and it sometimes took away from the driver skill and precision needed overtakes or defending. Let’s hope there are still some consequences for a mistimed lunge…

Tommy
The car looks futuristic which I feel is the way things should be looking in 2021. The Halo looks a lot nicer now it’s incorporated into the design, the arrow front wing looks aggressive and the rear wing, while certainly very different, looks insane but something I’m sure we’ll get used to overtime. The painted on rims look ridiculous but from the team concepts it looks like they’ll just be painted a full colour which looks a lot better and the wheel arches look pretty cool too, even though it seems to have triggered a lot of people. Sure, it does look a bit IndyCar like but that’s not a bad thing really. Overall, I like it a lot and for those who don’t, the looks really aren’t the most important thing about this new car.

Dan
I’m not 100 per cent sure that I like the move up to 18-inch rims as big chunky sidewalls have been an appealing part of F1 for the best part of 50 years, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it, just like I have with the Halo. I love the rest of it though. I’ve seen some comments that it looks a bit like an IndyCar - as if that’s a bad thing! I’ve also seen there are some concerns that all the cars could look very similar to each other thanks to the more restrictive rules but again, I don’t really care about that - paint all the 2019 cars the same colour and you’d have to be an absolute anorak to tell some of them apart. Plus, when you’re watching an epic battle for the lead, the last thing you’ll be thinking is, ‘This is good, but I wish I the Ferrari’s front wing endplates looked different to those on the Mercedes’.

Matty
I honestly could not care if the car has 47 wheels and 14 front wings, if it provides close racing like the 2012 era did with stepped noses, then I will take it. People may moan at car launches over a design being ugly, but all is forgotten when there are seven different winners in the first seven races.

The Cost Cap

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations - Formula 1

Matty
This one is a difficult one. I love it in theory but how on earth are they going to police it accurately? How do you measure sending an engineer home to work on their new designs for a front wing? If all of this can somehow be measured in a fair and balanced system then this should definitely, in theory, bring the field together. The top teams will always have a slight advantage though, seeing as they can pay whatever they want for the top three personnel and drivers without any limit. All in all, I can’t see it getting any worse so may as well try it!

Jess
Money, as we all know, is probably the biggest problem in F1, so anything that is there to try and level the playing field is good in my book. The big teams are always going to find a way around the limitations that are meant to clip their wings. This is a competitive sport and guess what - they have the money to do it!
There’s been a lot of talk about how the cap doesn’t cover things like engine development and production (which only really applies to the engine suppliers), or the salaries of the drivers or the teams three highest-paid employees, but it’s worth noting that the budget cap details have not actually been finalised. The official F1 website says that “the 2021 rules are a watershed for Formula 1 - but they are still a work in progress.” 2021 is therefore likely to be a testbed so expect more changes to come.

Dan
At last! It’s a huge step in the right direction towards closing the grid up and at least allowing the smaller teams an opportunity to compete. I’m under no illusions that making the teams more equal in terms of spending is suddenly going to turn Racing Point into championship contenders, but it might mean that an excellent drive from a midfielder in a normal race might result in a podium, not sixth or seventh. And an outstanding drive in an absolutely bonkers race could mean the odd unexpected winner.

Of course, all this is assuming it can be properly policed (it must not - I repeat NOT - turn into an all-season spending spree) - I wouldn’t put it past some teams to find ways around it… Sorry, I’ll stop being pessimistic!

Tommy
I’ll believe it when I see it.

Other Cost-Saving Measures

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations - Formula 1

Tommy
Fewer upgrades and more standard parts should hopefully stop the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull just running away with things in the development race. I just wanted to see a midfield car be able to get a podium again and this should happen again now!

Matty
Standardising some parts and, more importantly, limiting the number of upgrades a team can bring in a season is a big yes from me. The less the big teams can do to stretch their advantage at the front over the course of a season when resources may be tight for others, the better. But I’m still very afraid of loopholes… can you tell?

Dan
I really like the decision to limit the number of weekends where teams can bring upgrades to their cars. Instead of just producing a load of parts and throwing them at the cars because they can, teams will have to be a bit more strategic with their development and what they introduce to the cars. Do they go for the guarantee of a small performance gain now, or hold it back in the hope of a bigger performance gain a couple of races down the line?

If teams find themselves out of sync with each other in terms of their upgrade schedules, then we could see the pecking order changing race by race, which could in turn lead to closer, less predictable championship battles. And if the cost cap closes up the grid as hoped, then each race weekend could end up being a genuine step into the unknown.

Jess
Like with the cost caps, limiting upgrades sounds like a good idea. But with already massively reduced testing time, I can’t help but worry that if a team doesn’t nail their set-ups at the start of the season, there’s going to be very little that can be done to catch-up.

Anything Else?

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations - Formula 1

Dan
The original plan for the 2021 rules was to ban tyre warmers, meaning that drivers would have to go out on track with cold rubber and get them up to temperature themselves. Now, this idea has been scrapped, apparently because drivers felt that it would have been too dangerous.

Sorry, but this just doesn’t fly with me. IndyCar drivers manage it - on ovals, no less - as do Formula 2 drivers, who manage it fine on the same track, over the course of the same weekend and on similar rubber - as the F1 drivers. Yes, cold tyres on an F1 car would be a different beast, but as far as I’m concerned it would just have been another skill for the drivers to master. It also would have made pit strategy a lot more interesting - undercutting a rival wouldn’t have been quite so straightforward. And a driver pitting later might emerge in front of another driver, but then they’d have to fight to build tyre temperature while losing as little time as possible while potentially trying to fend off other cars with nice hot rubber.

As a way of improving the racing - and saving on the financial and environmental cost of transporting and powering the tyre warmers - it seemed like a simple move. It works brilliantly in IndyCar and F1 has missed a trick in not following through with it.

Jess
One of the new regulations I’m most excited about is the need for teams to run at least two sessions using a driver who has completed two grands prix or fewer.

Not only does this rule give younger drivers more opportunity to show their skills at the top tier of motorsport, but it will also give audiences a look into potential next superstars of the sport. Increasing the coverage of the feeder series they may already be competing in, such as Formula 2.

Tommy
There seems to be such a buzz about tyre warmers and people wanting it scrapped. With the current cars I could see it working quite nicely but with these new cars being able to follow each other better, I’d rather not see a car completely defenceless when trying to race someone out the pits.

As for the tyres, I’d have liked to see them move to using all three tyre compounds during the race so the race is a mandatory two stop. It’s OK to make the cars easier to follow but in a one-stop race where the fastest cars start at the front, there’s a worry we could still end up with stagnant races.

In Conclusion...

Our Popular (And Unpopular!) Thoughts On The 2021 F1 Regulations - Formula 1

Tommy
Sure, some stuff could be better but I’m just glad that F1 will finally have cars that are designed to race each other! 2021 can’t come soon enough for the sport as far as I’m concerned.

Jess
All in all, I’m feeling super positive about these reg changes - will it be perfect? No. Will it be better… We can all only hope so.

Matty
Change is good. F1 has needed it for quite some time now and it’s refreshing to see that the cars have been designed with overtaking in mind. Whether the 2021 cars will look anything like the concept we’ve seen, who knows… But all I can tell you is that I cannot wait for lights out for the first race of the 2021 season! (Do we really need to have 2020?)

Dan
I really like the changes overall. The sport has gone back to basics and done its research on what core changes they can make to improve F1, rather than trying to patch up the problems with gimmicks. In the near-quarter of a century I’ve been a fan, this might just be the most excited I’ve been for a rule change. Hurry up and be 2021 already!