Formula 1’s 2022 season is almost here, and this new Tech Draft shall endeavour to summarize the raft of changes the sport will introduce, as we look forward to another cracking season.
Formula 1 takes on a new form in 2022 with the introduction of new technical, sporting, and financial regulations.
Even though the intention of the regulative regime is meant to be profound, closer racing and more overtaking being the prime objectives, there is a reasonable probability that we will see the same sorts of competitive patterns that we have traditionally seen in Formula 1. The dominant teams and drivers may change, but I simply do not envisage the sport becoming as unpredictable and competitive as the rule makers might wish.
By now most of us die-hard F1 followers will be reasonably coherent with the regulative changes for 2022, what they might look like and how they might be implemented, but the biggest unknowns remain, how will they impact the cars’ performance, and how will they contribute towards realizing the strategic intent of the changes?
The new aerodynamic framework, in essence doing away with flat-bottomed chassis and re-introducing ground effects, is a great idea in principle. At a theoretical level, conditioning the wash by reducing turbulence and maximizing the rearwards laminar flow will maximize the following cars downforce levels at closer proximities.
However, I keep reminding myself that the 2022 F1 car will still be a big, heavy and wide beast, still very reliant on significantly sized, turbulence producing wings. Even though the rearwards turbulent throw will have been reduced, I don’t think the 2022 F1 car will have a significantly noticeable ability to follow another in high-speed corners. The mere fact that DRS will remain in 2022 and possibly for the foreseeable future is proof enough.
The new 18″ wheels will be a game-changer
Another major change for Formula 1 in 2022 is the introduction of the 18” wheels, and a control BBS wheel, which by the way will be covered by a fixed (static) controlled design composite wheel covers that the teams can manufacture themselves.
The 18” wheels will be fitted to new sized Pirelli tyres, and this may very well be one of the more significant changes in the new regulative framework, given the critical nature of the Pirelli tyres to an F1 car’s performance level already.
For decades now a team’s ability to efficiently activate tyre compounds has been a key to maximizing performance, but just as important has been their ability to understand and utilize the tyres’ side wall compliance. So much so that F1 engineers consider the tyre an extension of the suspension system.
In 2022, with approximately 25% less sidewall, their compliance will be significantly less, and I suggest a much narrower tuning window. Sidewall compliance is critical to the behavioural characteristics of the way that a tyre takes on and consequently gives up load through corners, and in acceleration and braking zones, and with less compliance in the sidewall, it is likely that the 2022 car will be balanced on a narrower knife edge through higher speed corners.
The way the new tyres transmit load won’t be the only challenges they present to the engineering teams though. A more compliant tyre sidewall generates heat that the tyre carcass absorbs, and as a result their temperature sensitivities will be different. Also as a matter of interest, the introduction of the control BBS wheel will end the need to develop internal and external heat and cooling sinks on the wheel surfaces, as has been seen in recent years.
One of the less written-about changes in the new 2022 technical era is the abolition of the use of any form of mass (or inertia) damper. Not only is this the case, but Article 10 of the new technical regulations has been very carefully reworded in a manner that effectively bans any sort of device such as that used successfully in 2021 by Mercedes that tuned the mechanical properties of the suspension system to alter the ride height.
Nevertheless, altering the ride height to stall the rear diffuser on a 2022 ground effect F1 car would be quite silly and only be counter-productive to performance, anyway.
Power-units and brakes are changing as well
An interesting challenge for the PU engineers in 2022 is the impact that moving to a 10% ethanol blend fuel will have on PU performance.
Starting the season of with a PU tuned with as higher performance as possible to the new fuel blend will be critical, given the development freezes on PU’s that start on March 1 for performance upgrades and mid-year for the electrical system, and which extend for the time being until the end of 2025.
However, the caveat for PU upgrades remains, where upgrades on the premise of ‘reliability’ may be allowable, as was so effectively utilized first by Honda and then Mercedes later in 2021.
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.
Up until 2022, there had been no minimum cooling hole diameter restriction. However, from this 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.
Couple that with another increase of minimum weight to 790kg and it is quite possible that brake management during a race will become just as important as tyre management.
Formula 1 heading into a new era that can decide its future
As we look forward to the new season and indeed a new technical era, one in which the FIA and the sports commercial rights holder openly state that the grander strategic intent is closer proximity racing and more overtaking; the pursuance of ‘the show’, I can’t help but worry that it contradicts the very essence of the sport.
In their attempt to manufacture closer racing and more overtaking through more prescriptive and limiting technical regulations, financial restraints, and even resource penalties as a reward for success, the rule makers may well be contradicting what F1 is founded on, winning, being the best, while leaning towards what could be a control series.
But for now let’s embrace the change, look forward to what 2022 will bring, keeping in mind that it might well be the year that decides what path the sport will take in the future.