One of the concerns that accompanied the debut of the new regulations in F1 was the significant technical restrictions imposed on engineers. “What characterized the last major regulatory change (2009) is that it was no longer restrictive. The new regulations for 2021, on the other hand, are restrictive and very prescriptive,” said Adrian Newey three years ago. “This is a shame because it will make all the cars the same, which is not what F1 should become.” The genius from Colchester was not the only one expressing strong opinions about the regulatory changes. Many technicians spoke of little freedom to develop new ideas and solutions. However, the first year of regulatory changes showed us cars that were very different from each other, not just aesthetically, but especially in terms of concepts.
Ferrari and Mercedes trusted their concepts for two winters, but Red Bull’s had more potential
Red Bull’s dominance in the second part of the 2022 Formula One season, continuing into the recently concluded season, led to an important verdict: the aerodynamic concept chosen by Adrian Newey’s team had the most potential. It’s no coincidence that many teams, especially those further from the Milton Keynes team, started last winter to follow the development line designed by the technical office led by Wache. Ferrari and Mercedes continued to give significant trust to their different aerodynamic concepts, which were maximized with very low ground clearances but were super sensitive to this last but crucial technical factor. The significant consequence was that both cars were heavily penalized by aerodynamic porpoising; from the very first laps for Mercedes with the W13 and more in the development phase for the team from Maranello.
The anti-porpoising regulatory changes for 2023 allowed cars to move away from the onset point of porpoising, but the early-season SF-23 was still a victim of it. But it wasn’t the only problem for the Scuderia at the beginning of the last season. “The direction we took was not the most performant, the most profitable,” candidly admitted Enrico Cardile, Technical Director of the Maranello team. The same happened at Mercedes, where the zero-pod project proved to be a complete failure, leading to significant changes in personnel, with the return of James Allison as Technical Director and the departure of Mike Elliott, who, as head of the technical part, endorsed the choice of designing a W14 that worked too high when Red Bull had even lowered the optimal ride height of its car compared to the previous one.
One winning concept in F1 but still developable and with a lot of potential
In Maranello and Brackley, they had no choice but to abandon their concepts, seeking a revolution with their 2023 cars. “The faster cars are those that have the greatest conceptual ‘force’,” said James Allison. There has been much talk about the Red Bull downwash bargeboards, further developed primarily by Alpine and then adopted by Aston Martin and McLaren. An aerodynamic concept cannot and should not be confused only with the shape of the bodywork; it is something much more complicated, involving much deeper choices. “Where do I want to optimize my aerodynamic load? At 80 mm or 30 mm from the ground? Do you want the car to be good in crosswinds? Fine, but at what degrees do you want that optimization? Fifteen? And how much importance do we give to those degrees compared to 5 and 0?” said James Allison, always emphasizing the importance of the car’s conceptual design.
Both teams had to embark on a new path. Mercedes started from the Monaco GP, Ferrari from the Spanish GP. Interestingly, reconnecting to what was said in the previous paragraph, both teams noticed a chronometric worsening of their packages in the wind tunnel using the downwash bargeboards solution on their cars. However, the new packages paved the way for more profitable development, which was maximized with subsequent upgrades. For Ferrari, this was done between Austria and Japan, and for Mercedes, especially with the Austin package, which allowed eliminating the conservative decision made last winter on the optimal ride height.
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It is understandable, therefore, that Frederic Vasseur does not speak of a technical revolution for the Ferrari 2024 since it will be an evolution of the new concept introduced on the SF-23 from the Spanish GP 2023 and developed throughout the second half of the season. The same goes for Mercedes; however, the W14 was very extreme in some technical choices related to the ‘zeropods’ concept, as in the chassis, unique in its kind. It is more normal for the men in silver-black to emphasize the changes between the W14 and the W15, as explained by F1 experts Piergiuseppe Donadoni and Paolo D’Alessandro for formu1a.uno.
This winter, many teams will align their chassis and transmission choices with what was seen on the RB19 in an attempt to catch up with the Milton Keynes team. Therefore, the fear of having an F1 with almost identical cars can become relevant again. The variety of ideas seen at the beginning of 2022 has gradually disappeared, especially after the regulatory changes adopted for 2023, necessary according to the Federation to strongly limit porpoising. In different ways, everyone tried to direct as much flow as possible towards the rear, but only Red Bull understood how to have a stable platform in various conditions and at different ground clearances, thus expanding that operational window that created problems for Ferrari, Mercedes, Alpine, and Aston Martin once the first important updates on the AMR23 were brought to the track. This is a point that all the technical offices of the various F1 teams are trying to study and improve for the next season, intervening precisely on the chassis – to rearrange the anti-intrusion cones, radiating masses, and aerodynamic parts – but also on the transmission, which has an important and direct impact on the floor and diffuser design, especially.