Formula 1’s brief winter break is over, we are almost there, pre-season testing for the 2022 season and a new era begin in one day, and we just can’t wait. So what to expect? Tech Draft explains.
This week Formula 1 begins the year in earnest at Barcelona, but curiously it’s not an official test, and it’s going to be held behind closed doors.
This intriguing anomaly in isolation gives us an insight into the fact that the technical regulation change for F1 in 2022 is significant, quantum, and as a result the testing plan leading into racing next month in Bahrain will diverge significantly from what we have seen as the normative since 2014.
Generally, in any year post 2014 where the year-to-year regulation changes have been somewhat more subtle, a pre-season test plan framework might go something like:
Shake downs to ensure major and ancillary mechanical and electrical systems are operating as expected and calibrated accordingly.
Validation of simulated base line set-up.
Correlation and validating a huge matrix set of parameters. This is where the pitot rigs and flo-vis really come into play and is where the bulk of testing would generally be.
Performance testing. This is where set-ups are changed, different parts changed out for R&D, and outright speed is pursued. As a matter of interest, in recent years F1 has become so aerodynamically complex that the previous step of correlation and validation is so intense that teams haven’t spent much time on testing outright speed as you might think. Mercedes might have been the exception!
New Formula 1 rules, new pre-season test plan
Nevertheless, the changes for 2022 are so significant that this test plan will need to change, and there will be much more work in the primary stages to do, and probably an additional step.
Weight distributions will now be different, as will be suspensions systems, there will be no inerters, the wheels have changed, and critically the tyres have as well, with a completely new performance and degradation set of behaviours.
Things will be mounted differently in different positions as a result of the way the new regulations have allowed the designers to package their systems. The cooling characteristics of the cars will have changed.
Importantly, the regulation changes are so significant that even the way in which the power unit will harvest and deploy energy will have changed.
Now, given that the point of this article is to give an insight into what the 2022 pre-season test plan might look at, I’m not going to keep listing off each technical change and what the associated impact might be.
This year the primary goal to start with is going to be to make sure the car is safe and works and then to validate the basic design fundamentals.
There are so many unknowns in the new technical framework now that make it essential that fit, form and function are validated.
Of course, we all know that all F1 teams have impressive complex simulation capabilities, but in the absence of real-world empirical data, a simulation is only a guess.
What this means is that once a team has proven and is comfortable that their car runs and isn’t going to fall apart, there will be a long and exhaustive phase of very short 1-3 lap runs at set parameters methodically measuring and validating singular factors, with the aim of reaching a point where a base set-up is reached.
If fact, personally I think it is quite possible that that the first test this week in Barcelona might not even produce one significant performance indicating time as a measure.
The break between Barcelona and Bahrain tests critical for teams
The break between the first pre-season test in Barcelona and the second in Bahrain will probably be one of the most important periods for the Formula 1 teams this year, and one of the most intense for their manufacturing departments.
I would expect every team will need to rehash their designs to some degree, where things are mounted, how things are mounted, and even delete or include new parts.
Not only will it probably be one of the busiest times back at the factory for the teams, but it will probably also be the time of the year where the most risk with respect to performance direction is taken, because the end result of the Bahrain test has to be a starting point of a reasonable performance curve for the season.
I would expect that the intent of the second test at Bahrain to be completing the Barcelona plan, if it wasn’t completed for various possible reasons, and then to start not only begin understanding the performance envelopes of the initial design configuration for the year and how to squeeze optimal performance out of it, but given the limited time to further develop during the season, the final stages of the Bahrain test might also set the R&D path for the first few races of the year, given that they are all fly away events in fairly rapid fire.
Finally, but by no means the least important, pre-season testing is important for all the team members in the garage to get to know and work with each other. Formula 1 team personnel often change during the winter break but need to learn how to operate as efficiently and optimally as possible in a short amount of time, and iron out any communication issues as they will be living and working closely with one another for extended periods of time quite often during the year.