Tech Draft: Is it time for F1 to sustainably return to its roots?

Tech Draft: 2022 F1 Pre-Season Thoughts & Analysis

With Formula 1 pre-season testing being done and dusted, and a few days away from the 2022 F1 season opener in Bahrain, Mark Kay analyses this year’s pre-season.

Well, here we go, folks! After an abnormally brief inter-season break, we are but 72 hours away from the first money shots of 2022, a new era, one we are anticipating as the dawn of a more competitively diverse and entertaining stanza in this sport that we all are so passionate about.

So, here I go with my best endeavours in putting together the best and succinct appraisal of the 2022 F1 pre-season.

If you are looking for my opinion on a quantitative comparison that underpins early season predictions, you may as well turn your attention elsewhere, because this is not what this review is about.

The flame of F1 innovation burns on brightly

Tech Draft: Mark Kay's 2022 F1 Pre-season Analysis

First things first, even in the face of what is probably the most restrictive and quantum technical regulative change F1 has ever experienced, coupled with severe financial and physical resource restrictions for the first time in the history of the sport, the teams appeared to have done wonderfully in ensuring that the flame of innovation, a fundamental on which F1 was founded, continues to burn brightly.

As much as many of us level-headed engineers are sure that over a short period of time, the design philosophies and performance of the teams will converge, a big part of me hopes that this convergence doesn’t include innovation. We must ensure it is given every opportunity to live on.

The fundamentals of the 2022 technical changes to an F1 car’s design are the lesser importance on the upper aerodynamic surfaces with the inclusion of the ground effect floor as the primary downforce generator to promote a more laminar wake, an increase in wheel diameter, and an increase in the dry mass of the vehicle.

Under the assumption that the mandated power unit design freeze results in a blanket performance convergence,  the characteristic changes to chassis behaviour have become:

  1. The ability to maximise downforce at a ride height level that doesn’t create aerodynamic flow separation in the ground effect Venturi’s.
  2. Minimise the effect of the resultant more stiffly sprung chassis combined with the less compliant and more stiffer tyre sidewall in tyre performance and degradation.
  3. Maximise a more sensitive roll characteristic during yaw change.

In other words, the focus in early 2022 is to be able to control “porpoising” whilst maximising downforce, maximising the new tyre size performance, and rotating the heavier car on a dime.

In a ground effect car; the faster you go, the more downforce is generated

Most of us are already aware of the “porpoising” issue, and to be honest, I personally think the behaviour is so intrinsic to the ground effect principle that it can never be eradicated at the F1 level completely. Rather, it becomes about finding that level where the behaviour becomes tolerable, and less detrimental to ultimate performance.

Fundamentally, “porpoising” is managed through the control of ride height, most often using stiffer spring and dampers, the way the flow into and through the floor Venturi’s is conditioned, and the degree that tunnels can be sealed to pressure gain and turbulent influence.

However, a stiffer car is always more sensitively balanced, and more difficult to drive, but we have already seen many innovative tactics in the pursuance of maximising downforce whilst at the same time minimising “porpoising”.

We have seen very diverse side pod designs, all with the intent of influencing the behaviour in which the air flow enters the floor Venturi’s, and the way the upper air flow rearwards interacts with the Venturi flow.

Not only that, but we have also seen many slot and cut-out concepts in the floor sides rearwards, all with the intent of creating vortices to seal the floor and minimise turbulent introduction into the Venturi’s.

In a perfect world it would be ideal to seal the floor to the ground completely, but as we already know, this will also increase the risk of underfloor separation and “porpoising”.

An elegant solution is to deliberately design flex into the floor edges so that as the aerodynamic load downwards increases the floor flexes towards the ground to seal.

However, there is a threshold reached where if the floor flexes any further the Venturi flow will separate, and so some teams have been using some very innovative adjustable increasing rate stays to support the floor edges and optimise the manner in which the floor flexes whilst mitigating going over the “porpoising” threshold.

For me, one of the more apparent technical innovations I have observed is the way drivers have had to change the way they drive the cars to accommodate tyre behaviour. Throttle and braking modes have changed due to a significantly stiff side wall, and the need to feed axial and transverse load into the tread in a less vicious and more progressive manner.

The heavier weight of the 2022 F1 car has also highlighted the need for more cadence and trail braking techniques.

The increased weight of the 2022 F1 car has not only impacted the braking behaviours of the drivers, but it has proven to be a very important consideration in design philosophy.

A heavier car is more difficult to rotate mid-corner than a lighter one

Suspension pickup point designs have varied greatly, along with the debate of what is better, push or pull rod front and rear design?

The above discussed solutions of side pod minimalisation impact a car’s ability to rotate on its axles. In reducing the planar size of the side pod, other components, such as radiators that have a significant associated weight, generally need to be located either further rearwards, or higher up.

Locating additional size and mass rearwards is not acceptable, most significantly because of the critical nature of a constricting planar area rearwards on aerodynamic airflow towards the rear wing and drag.

Nevertheless, the trade off of locating mass upwards can also have a significant impact on a car’s ability rearwards due to inertial moments. The effect of mass is always less when the mass is positioned as low and as close to the vehicle’s centerline as possible.

FIA’s attempt at cost cap is somewhat wanting

2021 F1 financial rules and regulations: What is the cost cap and how will it be enforced? | Formula 1®

And to finish with, many might argue that finance and resource management aren’t necessarily technical issued per se in F1, but they certainly directly impact the technical aspects of the sport.

Whilst I most certainly support the rationale behind a financial regulative framework as some form of assurance of a more competitive field, I do have a fundamental criticism of the way in which the FIA has executed its first attempt of one in F1.

From my experience in the field of commercial contracts ranging from $100,00 upwards of $50-Million, the financial sums, be they firm fixed, fixed incentive or whatever, there is always a contractual caveat of a solid mathematical escalation clause. A clause that considers the rising and falling of standardised currency, raw commodity, and labour indices to ensure that the risk of unforeseen fluctuations can be accounted for and ensure a fair-trading environment.

Recent events impacting the global economy have exposed the FIA’s good first attempt at financial and resource control as somewhat wanting.

There is potentially a need for change with respect to this part of the new regulations.