Formula 1 was back at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix, with some evidence emerging leading us to believe F1 may have embarked on an innovation renaissance. Tech Draft explains.
The lead up to the 2022 Formula 1 season held so much promise, especially for those of us who are passionate about the technical side to the sport with this year’s pre-season giving us glimpses of what might come, and at the very least indicating that if anything, the new set of technical rules under which F1 was regulated had re-enabled more design diversity.
Now, as the teams have already arrived in Jeddah and would be unpacking and setting up for the season’s second round of rapid fire, we can be confident that the new era of F1, one that many of us including myself initially bemoaned as unnecessary, has delivered on its promises… Well, at least some of them.
2022 F1 Championship won’t be won by dominance
An important aspect of the objective of the new technical rules was to make closer proximity racing and overtaking easier and more common, but whilst that certainly appears to be the case, we will need to experience more races at circuits with different characteristics, and different climatic circumstances before we can be more definitive about this.
However, more broadly the intent of 2022 technical, sporting, and financial regime was to create a more diverse competitive spread, and I think the results in Bahrain and its pre-season lead up are enough to conform that this is the case.
I am very confident that the championship won’t be won by one dominant team, multiple drivers will win races, and the last rows of the grid won’t be frequented by the same teams, race after race.
What underpins that confidence I have in these statements is that under the new financial restrictions and performance based resource handicapping system, it will be very difficult for any team to develop such a competitive advantage so as to dominate the Championship.
How have the new regulations impacted the F1 landscape in 2022?
It would be straight forward to create some form of a more formal technical analysis document that would be dry and boring for the reader, so I will endeavour to break down the discussion of the impact of the new rules in F1 from my perspective into these sub-categories: aesthetic, power unit, aerodynamic, geometric (suspension), braking, tyres, and cooling.
Aesthetics can often be a subjective discussion, but generally the populist consensus has been that from a visual perspective point of view, the last 20 or so years of F1 hasn’t necessarily been the most pleasing to the eye. It has been said that the disjointed lines, raised noses, and complex aerodynamic geometries were an eyesore.
Nevertheless, it seems resoundingly consistent that the less complex simplistic lines of the 2022 designs to date have taken the aesthetic aspect of F1 back to a more classically thought of day. Couple that with the obvious diversity in which the aesthetic designs seem to have taken, and it seems that we are on a winner, for now at least!
Heading on to the power unit side of things; even though in Bahrain many of the final finishing positions were Mercedes powered – if one is to believe the perspectives of the experts in the know – GPS data concludes that the performance measures of all power units have converged and that now may very well be the right time to freeze specification.
From what I understand, if all the relevant GPS, speed trap, and throttle position sensor (TPS) data acquisition traces are overlapped and compared, the resounding conclusion is that F1 power units are currently at the best performance parity they have ever been throughout the life of the turbo hybrid era to date.
It’s always about the aero
We all understand the importance of aerodynamics in F1, and in 2022 that importance has shifted from the upper aero surfaces to the lower: the predominating factor is now the ground effect.
However, as all the teams have come to realise, ground effect comes hand in hand with boundary layer separation in the throat of the tunnels, and this creates the most undesirable behaviour we know as “porpoising”.
Whilst the most obvious aerodynamic innovations seem to be concerned with the treatment of flow along the trailing edges of the floor with the intent to reduce “porpoising”, another obvious intent has been a reasonably blanket intent to minimise sidepod cross-sectional and planar areas not only to minimise drag, but also to better influence air flow treatment along the floor edges.
However, and even though the optimisation of under floor flow seems to have been a priority, the front wing and resultant performance of the Sauber Alfa Romeo is clear evidence that beneficial performance gains are still to be found by focusing on the front end upper surface balance.
Now for the geometry, During the last several years in F1 suspension geometry has converged towards optimal performance precipitating from higher mounted upper wishbones, front pushrod, rear pull rod geometries, with torsion bar springing, and additional mass damper elements.
This year torsion bar springing is no longer an option, and neither are additional elements, nor the use of mass dampers.
However, that hasn’t restricted design philosophies when it comes to suspension geometry, with diverse avenues being taken in design, be it push or pull rod front and rear, and various ranges of built in rear squat and anti-squat, and front dive and anti-dive. It all seems a bit wonderfully old school!
Easy not to cook those brakes guys!
Red Bull’s suffering of over-heated brakes during the Bahrain Grand Prix, and the woes of McLaren before that in testing, are proof enough that brake management is now an important factor in this new era, and we haven’t even visited a circuit renowned for being tough on brakes, yet.
Due to the increase in the minimum cooling hole diameter in the brake rotors in the new regulations, an increase in the weight of the car, and further aerodynamic restrictions such as the inability to drag air inwards through the wheel due to the wheel covers, changes in the allowable dimensions or brake cooling ducts, and change in the rearward flow of air, the cooling ability of the larger diameter brake rotors has been compromised, and consequently so has their wear rate.
Expect braking related issues to become more widespread as the season progresses to visit circuits that are more brutal on brakes.
The tyres in F1 are supplied by a sole supplier, Pirelli, but why do they need to be so influential on performance? It is a personal irk of mine.
The new F1 regulations have changed the size of the tyres used, now to suit 18” diameter wheels, with different and more sensitive behavioural characteristics, and yet after Bahrain it is the same old boring scenario where -3 laps after changing onto a fresh set of tyres, regardless of the compound, a driver needs to back off and start tyre conservation.
Tyre conservation and management still has far too much of an influence on the discourse of a race, and I am disappointed that this hasn’t changed in the new regulative framework.
Formula 1 has always been at the forefront of technology, it still is
As discussed above, for various reasons a very valid design pursuance in 2022 has been the minimisation of sidepod size, but in doing so it has become necessary to be more efficient in the way the cooling system is packaged.
In being able to realise its “zero sized’” sidepod concept, Mercedes had no option but to locate cooling system componentry, such as the intercooler, in a different position, both axially, and in height.
To be able to do this in what is probably a not so desirably three dimensional position, it is then critical to reduce the mass of the component as much as possible, and this is where it gets exciting.
It has been reported in that in the pursuance of an optimal type of intercooler, with the minimum mass possible, that Mercedes has taken the not so common avenue of a usually heavier but more effective water-air exchanger, rather than the more widely accepted lighter but less effective air-air exchanger, and engaged UK space industry leader Reaction Engines of Oxfordshire, to consult for them in the development of the lightest and most effective water-air exchanger they can.
If this is indeed true, and in the true spirit of innovation in F1, all I can say is just watch this space!
And the season is GOOOOOO! #BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/791DepnFFA
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 21, 2022