In October 2019, Formula 1’s top brass unveiled the new 2021 regulations. With the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, these regulations have been delayed to 2022, although their intent remains the same – to promote sustainability and encourage better and closer runs. Here we take a look at some of the major changes and consider how they might affect the on-track product.
Reduced aerodynamic turbulence
With the new set of regulations, the focus has been on reducing aerodynamic turbulence. This objective will be mainly achieved thanks to the reintroduction of the ground effect: the use of wide undersides of wings and bodywork on the floor of the car to “glue” the car to the ground and thus generate more downforce. Ground effect was first introduced by Colin Chapman of Lotus in the 1970s, although it was banned by the FIA in 1983 for safety reasons. Subsequently, F1’s aero designers turned to other areas of the car to generate downforce, such as the spoilers. This approach generates more turbulent air and makes overtaking more difficult.
F1 took inspiration from this previous generation of cars for 2022. Although side skirts are banned, the 2022 car will feature fully formed underfloor tunnels (as opposed to the stepped floors seen in previous years), generating quantities substantial support. These underfloor tunnels are less sensitive to the aerodynamic wake of other cars, and so drivers will be able to follow more easily.
The front fenders have been radically modified. In the previous generation of cars, the front fenders were essential in directing airflow over the front tires while generating consistent downforce. However, these wings were directing a considerable wake outward, disturbing the air behind. 2022 cars have fenders that should minimize this outboard wake by tightly directing air through the sides of the car.
The rear wing also saw some major revisions. The new cars will feature rear fenders with rolled tips, as opposed to the sharper, more rectangular fenders we saw last year. Under previous regulations, the rear fenders directed airflow outwards (into the path of following cars). Using a series of swirls and angular geometries, the new rear fenders will take the wake generated by the rear wheels and direct it through the angled diffuser high in the air. Thus, the following cars will travel in less turbulent air.
The new cars will also be equipped with fins on the wheels. These winglets have been clearly visible in renders and launched cars so far, and their main purpose is to redirect the wake generated by the front wheels away from the rear wing (where it could disrupt the cars behind). Hubcaps, last seen in F1 in 2009, are returning in 2022 as a potential method for teams to recoup some of the downforce lost in other parts of the car.
To aid airflow to the next car, around the wheels are vanes to manage tire squirt and washout. These are tightly regulated and brake scoops are restricted to development.
These are older spec models, the real ones are much more complex! (pictures to follow) pic.twitter.com/9cyZeA3guE
— Craig Scarborough (@ScarbsTech) February 8, 2022
Overall, these changes should reduce downforce loss from the current 47% to around 18% over a car-length distance. This will reduce the pace differential needed to overtake, hopefully promoting better racing between equally competitive cars.
A number of items have been banned for 2021, starting with bargeboards. With simplified front fenders introduced in 2019, teams have been experimenting with using other areas of the car to generate downforce. The deflectors, made up of all the aerodynamic components behind the front suspension but in front of the sidepods, have become more and more complicated. While they were very good at creating downforce under the floor, they created a lot of aerodynamically turbulent backwash for the cars behind. As a result, F1 has banned them altogether for 2022 (although some teams are developing clever workarounds). This is in line with the general philosophy of encouraging overtaking.
On the suspension, hub extension mounting points were also banned. First pioneered by Toro Rosso and Mercedes, these mounting points connected the upper suspension to wheel hub extensions, not the wheel hub itself. This design effectively maximized the aerodynamic efficiency of the upper triangle by mounting it higher. This clever innovation has been banned for 2022, with the aim of both reducing development costs and reducing the disruptive wake.
Although not strictly related to the aerodynamics of the car, hydraulic suspension has been banned for 2022. These suspension systems, popularized by Mercedes in recent years, mimic the active suspension designs of the 1990s. series of hydraulically operated springs, engineers can mechanically “program” the car to react more precisely in certain circumstances. This makes the car more stable compared to a traditional suspension system. However, hydraulic suspension systems are incredibly expensive to develop and have therefore been banned in an effort to bridge the gap between bigger and smaller teams.
Elsewhere, certain parts have been standardized such as fuel pumps, wheel covers, etc. Other components have FIA prescribed or open source designs, such as the driveshaft, axles, brake discs and calipers, etc. Teams can take these designs and modify for their own use, pending FIA approval.
Perhaps the biggest visual change for 2022 will be the new 18-inch tires, which are significantly larger than the 13-inch Pirelli tires we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. Several teams tested the 18-inch tires last year with the 2019 and 2021 spec cars.
These new tires have been designed by Pirelli specifically to promote closer racing. They are designed to overheat less when sliding. Often we have seen drivers slipping through the dirty air of another vehicle, ruining the life of their tires and not being able to sustain a continuous challenge. The 2022 tires also reduce sidewall deflection and the resulting aerodynamic wake. The wake created by the tires (and how it interacts with the rest of the car) is of major interest to F1 teams; simplifying this wake will help reduce R&D costs.
However, some drivers have expressed concerns about visibility issues associated with the larger tires. After the FW44 shakedown, Williams driver Alex Albon said the race, “Because on open slopes you can see far ahead. With the tire’s blind spots and deflectors, it takes away a lot from that immediate view, a bit like looking around the corner.
“So what you end up doing is you’re actually looking further around the corner, which on a street lane in front of a wall, there’s just more of a wall. So you can’t see much around him. So I think it’s going to be the trickiest and also just the combat driving I think it’s also going to be something a little trickier to see where you are, where the front wing is, where your tires are .
More rigorous aerodynamic testing
F1 has also introduced a stricter sliding scale for aero testing in 2022. In the past, there were no limits on aero testing. As a result, the wealthiest teams could run their wind tunnels and CFD simulations continuously, gaining crucial tenths and giving them a significant advantage. In recent years, restrictions have been introduced (such as a limit of 65 wind tunnel runs per week), but these were common to all teams.
According to the sliding scale, teams will receive an allocation of CFDs and wind tunnel time based on their on-track performance. Teams that place higher in the Constructors’ Championship will receive less testing time, and this increases the further up the grid one goes. This system was first introduced in 2021 and has been further strengthened for this season. The first ranked team will only receive 60% of the wind tunnel time as the last ranked team. This regime, in addition to the budget cap, is designed to disrupt positive feedback loops that have led to periods of dominance by one team.
Different design concepts
We’ve already seen the many unique design philosophies adopted by some of the teams with the car revealed so far. Some of the main areas of divergence include suspension, cooling and sidepod structure.
McLaren and Red Bull have both opted for pushrod front suspension, a departure from the standard pushrod front suspension adopted by Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin. Mclaren goes even bolder by choosing a push rod design for its rear suspension (when the standard is the pull rod).
— Craig Scarborough (@ScarbsTech) December 20, 2020
Different teams have also come up with different cooling methods. Ferrari and Aston Martin have introduced vents in their bodywork, while other teams have opted for large intakes at the rear of the car. It is particularly interesting to see how teams with the same engine manufacturer (such as Mercedes and Aston Martin) develop different solutions for their cooling needs. Both methods have their respective advantages and disadvantages.
Elsewhere, some teams have developed some new features. Ferrari turned heads with its cradle-shaped sidepods, as well as its two-piece nose structure. Mercedes opted for a corrugated floor, similar to the one they tried in 2021 but quickly scrapped.
It’s fascinating to see each team’s interpretation of the new regulations. Until the pre-season tests, everything is purely theoretical and speculative. It’s possible that one team hit the jackpot, and it’s also possible that another team got their design wrong significantly and slipped in the competitive order. Perhaps these different concepts are equally competitive, with different tracks and circumstances suiting different cars as the coaches intended. F1 is on the cusp of an exciting new era, and it’s all to play for Melbourne.