The vast majority of teams have had their car launch for the new Formula One season. In fact, only Alpine and Alfa Romeo are yet to show off their challenger for the upcoming season. And this has been one of the most anticipated launch seasons for a very long time. When the new technical regulations were announced a couple of years ago, many people on the technical staff of teams commented that this was the most restrictive set of regulations that they had seen in the sport. This led to worries that the sport was moving too far towards becoming a ‘spec’ series, where all the cars are exactly the same. That has never been the idea in F1. In a series like IndyCar in America or even Formula Two, the teams don’t make the car themselves, they just run them for the duration of the season. F1 is meant to be different. There is a set of technical regulations that the teams are given and they go away and build a car that fits within those rules. So, every car is different. However, because of how tight the new rules seemed to be, many were wondering if we would just be looking at 20 cars that were the exact same, just slightly different colours.
I am delighted therefore to see the variety of design on show so far. There is something different on a design front from every team that has launched their car. Whether it be Alpha Tauri’s square inlets, Ferrari’s deep dish sidepod or how each team has interpreted the new front wing and nose concept. It’s wonderful to see the technical directors and lead designers really look for different solutions that they hope will give their team the edge. Of course, much of what makes the new cars so different to the previous generation is what is going on underneath. For the first time since the early 1980s, ground effect is being utilised. While we are not seeing a return to sealed skirts and full-length venturi tunnels, it is hoped that using ground effect will enable the cars to follow closer and encourage more overtaking.
The previous era of cars generated a lot of their downforce from pressing the car down into the tarmac, through spoilers, barge boards and other aerodynamic appendages. This new set of cars get their downforce by creating an area of low pressure underneath the car that then sucks it to the ground. The reason that will hopefully benefit racing is that over-body aerodynamics disrupt the airflow and create what’s called ‘dirty air’. Obviously, aerodynamic devices work far better when they have a smooth airflow going over them. The airflow is heavily disrupted by the aerodynamics on an F1 car, meaning that if one car is following another, their aerodynamics will not be performing at peak efficiency and the car will not be as fast through the corners. Downforce created under the car is far less disruptive. It has been shown that in the previous generation of cars, if you were following another car with about a second’s gap between you, you could lose nearly 50% of your downforce. In the simulations and tests done so far, that has been reduced to under 20%. That would be a huge gain which would mean that cars would indeed be able to follow other cars more closely and be in a better position for an overtake quicker. Of course, we won’t know whether that is actually the case until the first race of the season. But the number do seem to suggest that we can expect closer racing this year.
And on a more superficial level, I think the actual cars launched so far are all really good looking. I say the actual cars, because Haas have only shown a render of the car and Red Bull’s launch show basically just showed off a new title sponsor and the fact that they have kept the same livery for the sixth or seventh season in a row. Now, the Red Bull livery is a very, very good one. It ties in all the corporate partners very nicely, it gives them a solid, consistent identity within the sport, there’s no reason to change it. But Christian Horner outright said that Red Bull were keeping their cards close to their chest with the reveal. So, we will have absolutely no idea what Red Bull’s car is actually going to look like until the pre-season test at Barcelona next week. That aside, I think this is going to be really good change for F1. The previous cars looked so long with hugely complicated bits sticking out everywhere. These new cars look far cleaner and less cluttered. They still don’t sound great, but that’s another issue.
I’m really excited about the new season of Formula One.