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Parc Ferme: Wing and a prayer F1 Formula 1

Parc Ferme: Wing and a prayer

Parc Ferme: Wing and a prayer F1 Formula 1
Formula 1, these days, is a hotbed of constant car upgrades, each one promising to transform a team’s fate.

Some teams hope a new widget will catapult them from the back of the F1 grid into the points. Others anticipate that a trumpeted tweak will break the stronghold that Max Verstappen and the Red Bull RB20 seem to have on the top step of the podium. Most renege on their promise.

The computer says, “Yes”

A frequent cry from the F1 teams after an upgrade’s disappointing debut is the “It didn’t perform as per the simulation” statement. Despite the invested money and, to be fair, the sophistication of today’s computer software, car developments still feel like a roll-the-dice moment.

This must be frustrating for the designers, especially when it all worked on the simulator driven by a driver back at the factory. Somewhere between there and the real world, its performance often falls out of the DHL package.

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Apparently, McLaren is currently facing this problem. However, in their case, the upgrades do more than what they said on the tin! This has left the Woking engineers perplexed and begging the question of how two plus two suddenly makes five.

Missing links

The answer, I believe, is simple, and it’s the biggest, unquantifiable variable in the process – the driver. Modern-day F1 simulators are an incredibly powerful tool. Reserve and Test operators often pull an all-nighter at the factory to resolve track-side set-up issues. However, like the upgrades, the outputs are variable.

The fastest car is always the most difficult to drive on the limit. Whilst testing in a simulator can factor in many things, it cannot create the risk that accompanies driving it in the flesh. An upgrade may be faster in engineering terms, but if the driver feels uncomfortable, it may nullify the gain or, worse, result in slower times on the clock.

We’re talking tenths here, of course, but most upgrades are only worth that. However, this effect is not a one-way street. If it makes a driver feel more confident in the car, they may well be the source of any time gained. It seems to me McLaren has pulled off the Nirvana of upgrades and achieved both.

A false F1 dawn?

As we head to Canada this weekend, a word of caution. Recent results would suggest that McLaren and Ferrari’s new bits are finally delivering, and that they can now compete on a level playing field with Red Bull.

Whilst Max certainly needs to put more of a fork in it these days, recent results could arguably flatter to deceive. Lando Norris’s victory required an auspicious Safety Car, and Charles Leclerc’s Monaco win should be seen in the context of the track.

A good chassis around the principality is unlikely to translate to other circuits under the current design regulations. However, maybe the recent dose of confidence for both teams can make a difference.