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Will the 2022 F1 Regulation Changes Make Cars Slower

The Formula one CTO Pat Simmons said in a recent Auto Moto & Sport interview that next year’s all-new formula one cars might start the season less than half a second slower than the 2021 cars thanks to the 2022 F1 Regulation Changes. That’s a surprise when you think that in the original unveiling of the new formula a few years ago, the expectation was that the change to the cars for this season would lead to a big increase in lap times.

We were always expecting to see a drop in performance with the introduction of a new formula for the championship. The dramatic changes in the technical regulations do mean that downforce in particular will be lower this year, so why would Simmons say that he thought that the cars would be a lot quicker than expectations.

With such stable regulations on the cars throughout Mercedes’ recent dominance, and almost static rules on the cars since 2017 the teams have been able to develop to the limits and the 2021 generation of cars have been amongst the quickest in Grand Prix history, thanks to their combination of power and aero development.  Indeed, the 2017 regulation change was introduced to increase speeds by around 5 seconds compared to 2015, but the drawback of these changes were that they negatively affected the car behind thanks to the amount of dirty and disturbed air produced by the various wings on the leading car, not to mention the much wider tyres that created a larger wake.

Minor changes took place on the regulations including simpler wings, and alterations to the floors of the cars, but this has been offset by the continued engine development, although cars were still about 1.2 seconds slower on average in 2021 than 2020 on the 8 circuits they raced on in both seasons.

When the 2022 regulations were introduced in 2019, at the US Grand Prix, they were planned for introduction in 2021, although they were later delayed by a year thanks to the pandemic.  This did give the teams more time to work on their designs and understand them better through CFD and wind tunnel testing.  Interestingly, the focus of the new formula wasn’t to increase or decrease speed particularly, rather to improve the racing of the cars.  Changes to the aero and the use of ground effect rather than wings was intended to reduce the wake and help the following cars race closer, as well as helping the 2022 Formula 1 teams simplify their aero designs and contribute to lower development costs – this was introduced alongside a cost cap.

When the show car was introduced, Nicolas Tombazis said that the cars would be around 3.5 seconds per lap slower as a result of the changes.  Simmons was more optimistic, expecting a drop closer to 0.5s when compared to the 2019 cars.  Others though expected a much bigger performance deficit of up to 8 seconds in time lost, which would have brought F1 lap times closer to lower formulae.

The goal of the 2022 F1 Regulation Changes

The goal of the new regulations was to clean up the wake of the car and getting it out of the way of the following car.  This reduces the ability of the cars to generate downforce, and the simpler aero meant that the various high-energy vortices that sealed the underfloor were made more difficult to form.  One of the most noticeable changes of the new specification is the removal of the increasingly complex barge board areas that directed the powerful y250 vortex generated from the inner edges of the front wing along the sides of the car.

2022 Formula 1 Regulation Changes

The weight of the cars was increased with the original specification, and subsequently increased again for safety reasons, meaning that the new cars will be 40 KG heavier than their counterparts at a total of 792KG including the driver.

An additional change was the use of a fuels that contain 10% sustainable ethanol (e10), which was expected to reduce power by around 20 BHP over the previous versions.

So the overall changes could be summarised as:

  • Simplified aero with lower use of wings and more emphasis on the underfloor and diffuser
  • Increased weight
  • Lower power from the fuel

All these changes should lead to quite big changes in speed.

The Teams Response to the 2022 F1 Regulation Changes

The teams have attempted to compensate for the reduction in top body downforce through the use of venturi tunnels down each side of the car.  This is the first time these aerodynamic structures have been used since they were outlawed in 1982 – 40 years ago!

These are intended to seal the underfloor to create a massive low pressure area that sucks the car to the track, rather than using the high pressure air generated by the wings previously.

According to the simulations, this still allows for good downforce overall, and could also mean much faster cornering than was previously possible when airflow moving across the car as it turned would disrupt the front to back flow that generated downforce over the wings.

The introduction of lower profile tyres on 18-inch rims means that the tyres should last longer when pushed hard because there will be less flex in the sidewalls and make cornering feel sharper and give the drivers more control over the car through tight turns.

It’s all about the designers

The biggest factor in determining the loss of speed from the 2022 F1 Regulation Changes is the response of the designers.  When the original specification was introduced, by the F1 and FIA technical departments, they expected the speeds to be lower, but as we all know, the collective might and genius employed in the design teams of the leading teams means that they will work around the clock to find loopholes and ways to interpret the new regulations that will give them any possible performance benefit.

Already during the first round of testing at Barcelona and through the release of the teams’ new cars, we’ve seen big differences in how the regulations have been interpreted, and as the teams analyse performance and look at each other, we’re likely to see further evolution ahead of the start of the season and at the first big round of updates released in the middle of the year, leading to the gap from previous years being reduced substantially.