The 2021 cars seem to be coming along nicely, both in terms of looks and the intended goal of reducing dirty air in order to improve the racing. However, F1 coming up with a basic design is one thing – knowing exactly how the incredibly clever engineers at the actual teams will interpret those regulations is quite another.
It’d kinda suck if all this effort was put into finding ways to reduce the dirty air given off by F1 cars, only for someone to find some performance-enhancing loophole which brought it all back. To that end, the FIA is hoping to be the one who finds those potential loopholes during the design and planning phase so that they don’t become a problem down the line. F1 chief technical officer Pat Symonds told the official F1 website:
“We are trying to see where the rules we have written are robust and where they might be a little weak. I’m sure ultimately the wake characteristics of a fully developed 2021 car are not going to be quite as good as we have got running at the moment, but I think they will still be very good, and it will be massively better than a 2019, or 2020 car. I’m absolutely certain of that.”
“There are certain areas we know already where you can add performance but in doing so you damage the wake, so we have been quite prescriptive in those areas, because we’ve been trying to break the rules. There are other areas where we feel the design is robust so we’ve been less prescriptive in those areas.”
Back in 2008, F1 was preparing for a change in the aerodynamic profile of the cars with a reduction in aero intended to slow the cars down and improve overtaking for the 2009 season. Ross Brawn was the team principal of Honda at the time and, funnily enough, attempted to warn the overtaking working group (of which Symonds was involved) that he’d found a loophole that effective clawed back most of the lost downforce. That loophole was the double diffuser and helped Brawn GP to a remarkable championship success the following year, as well as causing quite a bit of political turmoil within the sport.
Symonds is determined not to let a similar thing happen in 2021 and has been taking a different approach to the new regulations:
“We’re trying to look for the loopholes, look for the unintended consequences. That’s actually a difficult thing to do when you have written the rules. That was my experience when we were working on the 2009 cars. Because I had been involved in writing the rules, I found it difficult to think of the loopholes as I knew what was intended. That was a lesson learned, we have taken it onboard. We’re trying to forget what the intention was and looking at what we have actually written down and see if we can put our team hats on.”
However, this doesn’t mean that the sport is trying to completely destroy innovation. Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s single-seater technical boss, has said that they’re only going to try and stamp out loopholes which will have a negative impact on the turbulent air coming off of the cars:
“We are trying to find things that make the car go faster. These are things a team would do, you would want to put them on your car, but they might make the wake significantly worse. If the team makes the car faster but the wake doesn’t get any worse, we don’t have any problem with that. But if a team makes the car faster but hurts the wake, then clearly they will do it because if the rule permits it and we can’t ask them to be benevolent. But we want to know about it so we can see if there’s any fundamental weaknesses in the rules, any loopholes.
“We want to safeguard the wake performance but we don’t want all cars to look the same or to be exactly the same. But there are some areas of the car where performance can be found and not worsen the key parameters of the following car and we want to encourage those areas to be a bit freer.”
It sounds like a very sensible approach, but we’ll have to wait and see when it comes to how effective it proves to be. Just because Tombazis, Symonds and the FIA haven’t spotted something, it doesn’t mean that the likes of Adrian Newey won’t…