If it’s not a total surrender, it’s close. After two years of talking about an F1 nearing the realization of full performance convergence, the leadership of the category finally begins to make amends, leaving a breach in the wall erected to protect their ideas, which, apparently, are no longer so monolithic.
The next-generation Formula One, characterized by unpredictability and tight action, has been hacked to pieces by Red Bull and its champion Max Verstappen. After the tightly contested championship in 2021, Verstappen has won two more with ease, leaving the competition powerless and disoriented, trying to understand their position against the RB18 and RB19 cars that have rewritten several category records.
“The grid is closer; the difference is made by Max Verstappen and Red Bull.” This is the opinion of Nicholas Tombazis, director of the single-seater department at the International Automobile Federation (FIA). Emphasizing his role is important since he is one of the individuals who wrote the revolutionary technical rules that, apparently, revolutionized nothing.
The New F1 Isn’t Working as Hoped; Tombazis Admits
It’s convenient to “blame” Red Bull, which has undoubtedly been smarter than those who wrote the rules, gaining a colossal advantage that the regulations themselves preserve through various freezes, intricate ATR mechanisms, and spending caps. The stability and other pillars of the new F1, the panacea for all ills according to motorsport leaders, have had the opposite effect: handing over the keys to the individual.
But it doesn’t end there. The rules were meticulously (?) drafted to create cars less sensitive to aerodynamic wake. In simple terms, cars that wouldn’t suffer in dirty air, promoting overtaking and duels. If overtaking maneuvers increased by around 30% in 2022 compared to 2021, the 2023 championship saw a sudden halt, returning to the levels of the “old gen.” Overtaking became more challenging again, and the ones that did happen were still dependent on the DRS. A splendid revolution.
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Team designers, as usual, move at supersonic speeds compared to the experts at the FIA and Liberty Media, which, it’s worth noting, had a hand in defining the rules that will apply until the end of 2025. This situation has led to the resurgence of old problems that, apparently, were not highlighted when the decision was made to reintroduce ground-effect cars.
“This year,” Nikolas Tombazis said, referring to the difficulties cars faced while in a slipstream, “the situation has worsened. We knew it would happen. There are some gaps in the regulations that we couldn’t close in time, such as the endplate of the front wings and the area around the wheels.” Well, better late than never. Because around here, it was understood a long time ago that the new regulatory framework wouldn’t yield tangible results.
Aerodynamic wake, the ability to follow a car, has worsened compared to 2022, but it’s still better than 2021,” the former Ferrari member declared. But that things are better than 2021, when there was the peak of a regulatory framework squeezed like a lemon, resulting in unprecedented technical balance between two entities, Red Bull and Mercedes, who arrived at the last lap of the last race to determine the winner, may not be enough.
That context, evidently, wasn’t so terrible. Perhaps breaking free from it was a mistake because that’s where performance convergence was truly taking shape, a dream that remains and might end up in a drawer. If the category is ready to review its technical norms from 2026, it’s precisely to overcome the evident difficulties generated by “Formula 1 2.0.”
The FIA, often for reasons not directly related to performance, has intervened mid-season with some technical directives – which are clarifications – to correct certain aspects of the regulations that risked slipping out of the control of the legislator-judge. Much has been said about the effects of these measures, which, in truth, have not shifted the dynamics one step from before their deliberation.
“I don’t think there was a connection between technical directives and performance,” Nikolas Tombazis commented on the matter. And perhaps it’s considered fortunate because the federal intervention would have been evaluated as a strong interference aimed at altering the values that the track brought to light based on the type of work carried out by individual competitors.
Significant corrections are in the works, and for this reason, the aerodynamic regulations for 2026 have not yet been deliberated. This time, F1 cannot afford any more missteps. Especially if, in the next two years, technical-performance convergence with a Red Bull absorbed into the chasing group truly materializes. Remixing everything by resetting the field, with the risk of bringing forth other dominant entities, would be a mockery that Liberty Media simply would not want to endure.
Source: Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica