Whilst the 2021 Formula 1 season develops into what may be the most competitive season in many years, the reality looking forward to 2022 and beyond is that a significant change looms.
Most articles in the media that I have encountered on the changes for 2022 have focussed on the visual impact. That is nice, but what of the performance impact?
How will the new technical and sporting regulations impact the performance of Formula 1 cars?
Having spent most of my career in motorsport; Formula 1, Group C and other categories, I thought it might be a worthy exercise to discuss the major changes and how they may very well affect a 2022 F1 machine.
Whilst I am an ex-F1’er with an engineering degree, I certainly don’t have a PhD in fluid dynamics and so hopefully I can put my thoughts down plainly enough for most to understand!
My thoughts will focus on what I feel are the major performance differentiators, and I apologise in advance if I have missed a change that you feel is more significant than what I have written.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TUNNELS
The primary change impacting performance will be ground effects. The primary reason for introducing ground-effect is because it is less sensitive to turbulent wake and consequently is more conducive to following at closer proximity without significant downforce drop off.
Think of an upside-down NACA duct but stretch it essentially the length of the monocoque and about the width of the side pods. A tunnel on either side of the driver on the underside. The tunnels start fore very narrow and shallow and end aft wider and deeper.
The velocity of the air passing through the tunnels changes as the vehicle moves and the pressure changes and produces downforce.
Lots of it.
The intent of the new technical regulations is to change the major downforce producing surfaces from upper to lower. In a contemporary F1 the attitudinal control of the upper aerodynamic surfaces is critical.
Managing turbulent and laminar flows on the upper surfaces is all about controlling pitch, yaw and roll as effectively as possible. When ground-effect is the predominant aerodynamic device on a race car, the attitudinal control of the tunnels is critical.
There are three key controls that need to be mastered; control of the front ride height at tunnel entry, vertical (pitch) control to minimise heaving (tunnel losses) and roll control. All of these controls are key to ensuring the flow through the tunnels in uninterrupted by pressure disturbances and to maintain consistency.
How is this done? Well, in the absence of skirts and/or an active ride control the solution is much stiffer spring rates, particularly at the front.
How do stiff springs affect chassis performance? Understeer!
Interestingly, and in context to the 2021 season, rake will be of no advantage at all. In fact, rake will be a huge disadvantage.
BIG WHEELS KEEP ON TURNING
For 2022 Formula 1 is (finally!) moving with the times and embracing the change to 18” tyres. They sure will look sleeker and less balloon-like, but they will also present many challenges for the teams and drivers.
In modern F1 the tyres are an integral part of the suspension system, and this will be seriously compromised in 2022. The new tyres will have a much lower, or narrower, profile meaning that the sidewalls will be much stiffer.
As a result, there will be much less compliance in the tyre and ride quality and load transmission will be negatively affected. The tyres will be significantly heavier and inflation pressures high, once again compromising grip.
It is interesting that the tyre carcass for 2021 was changed to a more robust and heavier construction, which has presented several teams with difficulties in generating and retaining heat in the tyre body, particularly in lower ambient conditions.
A much stiffer and lesser compliant sidewall may very well create similar issues with much shallower temp upcycle slopes, but the temp down slopes may also be shallower as the tyres will have less exposed surface area and possibly retain temp a bit longer. In 2022 tyres might be more difficult to get into the window, but if they over-heat, they might fall off the cliff much quicker.
One interesting consideration with tyres in 2021 might be scrub and graining. A nice compliant sidewall allows the tyre to deliver grip with minimal slip across the contact patch.
A less compliant sidewall will deliver the load into the contact patch in a more brutal manner, and it is quite possible that degradation cycles will be negatively impacted and that graining, in particular, cold graining may become more prevalent.
The change to 18” tyres in 2022 is going to present both engineers and drivers a very big challenge and there will be a lot of learning on the job.
CAREFUL ON THE BRAKES
One of the less spoken about changes for 2022 is brakes. Whilst the maximum rotor width remains unchanged at 32mm the maximum rotor diameter will increase to 330mm. Consequently, the reduced leverage effort effect will give the brakes improved initial bite, particularly at the front. However, up until 2022, there had been no minimum cooling hole diameter restriction.
From next year onwards a minimum cooling hole diameter of 3mm will apply and this will effectively reduce the number of cooling holes in a rotor by approximately 50%. Obviously, brake temperature management will be critical, but in carbon/carbon braking systems wear also increases with temperature.
The double whammy on brakes will be a change in regulation with the restriction of one car set of pads and rotors per car per race weekend.
Couple that with another increase of minimum weight to the best part of 800kg and it is quite possible that brake management during a race will become just as important as tyre management.
With heavier, understeer prone cars with less grip, the braking phases are going to become even less binary and techniques such as cadence and trail braking on corner entry more common.
IT’S A SPORTING THING
One of the more obvious changes to the sporting regulations for next year will be operational changes directly related to the cars and how they are handled. Cars will be in parc ferme from the start of FP3 as opposed to Q1. Further, whilst configuration changes will be allowed during FP1, 2 & 3 cars must return to their end of FP1 configuration for parc ferme.
Teams and drivers are going to need to be very agile and quite honed in getting their set ups right as a result and their ability to perform R&D on the fly during a race weekend will be even more restricted.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Indeed! The technical regulations for 2022 will not only have an aesthetic impact on the cars, but the performance impact on the cars and how they behave will be quantum. Combine these changes with some significant sporting and operational cost cap changes and the Formula 1 landscape on track in 2022 might look a little different.
I predict a 4-6 second drop on an average 1min 40sec lap.
How do you see the changes impacting the cars? I am but one person and I would be intrigued to read your perspectives as well! (Report by Spiral Bevel Gear)