Why one team is warning F1’s 2021 cars will be a “nasty piece of work” to drive

2021 F1 season

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Over a month has passed since Formula 1 revealed its radical plans to overhaul the rules in 2021 and create a new generation of cars which are cheaper to create and race better on the track.

A new technical regulations package for 2021 has been approved. But now F1 teams have had a few weeks to study the new rule book more closely, not all of them are convinced it’s going to have the desired effect.

Racing Point technical director Andrew Green first arrived in Formula 1 when the team entered as Jordan in 1991. He has seen several major changes to the technical rules in that time. He thinks the 2021 package has “fundamental issues that could do with some addressing”.

F1 and the FIA are seeking to improve the quality of racing through a major shift in how F1 cars generate downforce. The 2021 cars feature much smaller and simpler surface wings, and use underbody tunnels to create a ‘ground effect’ which generates downforce. This should make them less sensitive than current cars to following other cars closely.

“The concept is do-able,” says Green. “But I think the wording needs some refinement, shall we say, to make it into a set of regulations that reflect the intention.”

Andrew Green, Racing Point, 2019
Green fears 2021 cars will be “nasty” to drive
With so much changing in 2021, the rule makers have taken it as an opportunity to clean up the regulations, consolidating all the areas concerning aerodynamics into one article. This will offer other potential improvements, as the FIA’s head of single-seater matters Nikolas Tombazis explained when the new rules were announced.

“The aerodynamic regulations are going to be much more CAD-based, computer-based, than currently. So we’ve introduced an axis system – a coordinate X, Y, Z system – and a lot of the legality of the cars will take place on the CAD. We will simultaneously be taking scans of the cars and comparing the scans to the CAD shapes in order to ensure the cars are legal in all aspects of the regulations.

“Also all the aerodynamics of the car is covered by article three. Previously there was a few dispersed areas of aerodynamics in other articles, like brake ducts and the brake system or whatever. Now everything has been brought into article three which is the cornerstone of all aerodynamic regulations.”

[icon2019autocoursempu]But it’s here that Green raises several concerns. These include whether the rules are going work as intended, how closely the rules reflect the wind tunnel model presented at the launch of the regulations, and how tightly the rules restrict what teams can design.

“What was presented as a 2021 model by F1 and what’s written in the regulations are two different things,” said Green. The main differences occur in “the whole of article three – the aerodynamic section.”

The rules remove many aerodynamic structures and add some – such as the distinctive strakes above the front wheels – in order to reduce the amount of ‘dirty air’ the cars generate. This should allow other cars to follow more closely. However Green believes there are some unintended consequences from these changes.

Based on his team’s research into the regulations, Green believes the 2021 car is “currently creating its own dirty air”, a problem he believes other teams have also discovered in their preliminary work on the 2021 cars.

F1 2021 car concept
Underbody “tunnels” will be disturbed by “dirty air”, says Green
“It’s more about what’s happening at the front of the car and where all the dirty air is going,” he explained. “Which is right underneath the tunnels, right into the tunnels.”

He intends to “have a word with F1 about that” at the next meeting on the technical regulations today.

During the lengthy process of debating the new rules, teams frequently warned they would leave them with too little freedom to design their own cars. Having seen the finished rules, Green says it’s clear teams will have “much less freedom” in 2021.

“I think there’s some areas where there is extremely restrictive, restrictive to a point where it’s almost impossible to design anything.”

The FIA insists this level of restriction is necessary to ensure the 2021 rules achieve the goal of improving the racing.

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2021 F1 car wind tunnel model
The 2021 reality may not match up to the model
“Some areas of the car, not a huge number, are going to be prescribed,” said Tombazis, “because there are some areas where there’s such sensitivity to control the wheel wakes that we feel that if we didn’t actually restrict the shapes, we would end up with potentially teams finding ways to overcome the key objectives.”

But Green believes not relaxing the rules in some of these areas will seriously compromise the cars’ handling.

“There are areas that could do with being freed up around the front wing,” he said. “Around the front of the car I think it’s incredibly restrictive to the point where it’s really going to hurt the handling of the car.

“It’s going to be a real nasty piece of work to drive which I think is something that if they allowed a little bit more freedom would allow us to sort that out but still retain the intent of the ground effect car [and] low following wake.”

For some, the idea of F1 drivers having to fight for control of their cars sounds like something which might make for a better spectacle. But Green isn’t convinced.

“Aerodynamically going be quite unstable. I don’t think that’s a nice thing to get to drive. You want cars that are a bit more predictable so the drivers can attack, be sure what they’ve got underneath them.

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“If they know what’s going to happen they can drive the car at the limit knowing that it’s stable at the limit. And from what I’ve seen at the moment none of those statements are true for a 2021 car.”

Andreas Seidl, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Seidl believes only “fine-tuning” is needed to the 2021 rules
Green’s analysis is not shared by all the teams. McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl cast doubt on the suggestion that the 2021 cars will have a new ‘dirty air’ problem.

“We don’t have these findings,” he said, adding they “completely disagree” with the claim the new rules need further development in order to fully realise the sport’s goals. “We are happy with what is on the table. Of course, there is still some fine-tuning required, as always. But we don’t see an issue.”

The publication of the 2021 regulations has fired the starting gun on F1’s next big development race. All the teams will be eyeing the potential to capitalise on the biggest change to the rules for a generation.

That is the lens through which we should view their comments on the merit of the rules changes, whether in favour or against. One way or another, there is always an advantage to be found.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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37 comments on “Why one team is warning F1’s 2021 cars will be a “nasty piece of work” to drive”

  1. Until we see the cars, fully developed, on track, we’ll never know. All the estimates F1 can work out right now don’t take into account the vast amounts of grey matter power behind F1 teams. They are not going to design a car with less dirty air or an “easy to follow each other” philosophy, they are going to design a car with as much downforce as possible which will never have the desired characteristics.

  2. I’m in the ‘let the cars be a nasty piece to drive’ camp, but understand that this needs be predictable rather than unpredictable ‘nastiness’. The car design should bring the field closer, and the driver should make the final (not ‘only’) difference.
    I don’t mind that Stroll in a Mercedes wins the WDC, as long as Hamilton/Verstappen in a Williams have a shot at podiums.

    PS Seidl sounds a lot like Ross Brawn in 2008 ;)

    1. @coldfly
      Well Stroll has a podium with Williams so you should be ok then ;)

    2. PS Seidl sounds a lot like Ross Brawn in 2008

      I had the same thought…

      1. Me as well! Great article too – it’s a pity we have to wait another year and change to find out what happens!

    3. racing point/ force india has consistently built the fastest car with the least amount of budget. their point of view is more credible than any of the others, as the others, can chase dead-ends & make mistakes to find perfect solutions. the brass tacks of the 2021 regs are they were put together by committee, are based on aesthetics, have used wind-tunnel & CFD modeling to determine conclusions and include several new elements alongside past elements that haven’t been used in decades. Oh gee, what could go wrong??

    4. @coldfly
      When has the last place team ever been in contention for even a lucky podium?

      1. Exactly the right challenge for the 2021 rules! @megatron
        But as I also said, only if driven by the best drivers.

  3. Until Newey, Allison or James Key chime in on the topic, i’m not listening.

    1. You had me at Newey……..:))) But that’s exactly it. If there were MASSIVE underlying concerns over the aero regs for 2021, someone like Newey would have spoken by now. But he is probably figuring out how to extract maximum downforce from the allowable regs and undetectable loopholes, while Seidl “sounds the alarm”. Just looking at the historical aero performance of Racing Point F1 cars, I think he should shut his “wind tunnel” up….

    2. RB13, In October this year, a journalist from Autosport did actually get to ask Newey what his personal opinion was on the 2021 regulation package. Newey’s response was to roll his eyes and reply “Why don’t we all just buy Dallaras and be done with it?” – which suggests he’s not exactly enthusiastic about the 2021 regulations.

      1. Haas supports Newey’s suggestion.

        At what point does Liberty buy Dallara? Vertical integration seems to be their end game.

    3. In the true style of the top teams, their engineers won’t be raising concerns (if they have any) until it’s way to late for the bottom teams to react quickly.

      We won’t really know how the 2021 cars perform until Qualifying 2 in Melbourne, that is of course assuming that they haven’t introduced the reverse grid qualifying abomination.

      I have no doubt however that over the next 12 months we will see a few “technical clarifications” brought about by teams discovering some issues.

      1. I think we won’t really know it until about the second half of 2021 @dbradock. During testing teams won’t be running the latest, most fancy packages.
        Australia often gives unrepresentative results, then we have other flyaway races where they will not really be able to get any new bits to speak of to the track (especially since they can’t throw quite as much money at it anymore) so they will probably be bringing quite significant updates to Barcelona, then it takes a couple of races for teams to finetune how they best use their packages, and until they incorporate ideas from others.
        So we turn up to tracks like Monza, Spa and the Hungaroring before we can really see where things are going.

        And realistically, maybe we should wait until mit 2022, since by then teams have had the time to change things they got wrong the first time …

  4. I like this Seidl, right away he seems like an engineer. Smart sharp, booring hair, booring glasses, unshaven because he has problems to solve not waste time shaving.

    McLaren will be fast in 2021 based on this superficial observation. He also sees the rules as good, just need some small improvements.

  5. @keithcollantine I refuse to read this article because the the “click bait”-inspired headline. Just came to say that and now I’m closing this page.

    1. When I read the headline I thought I’d learn “why one team is warning F1’s 2021 cars will be a “nasty piece of work” to drive”.
      That’s exactly what I got.

      Dolphins are supposed to be smart animals, but their concept of click-bait is probably: getting fed when making the typical clicking sounds :P

      1. Yeah I’m not sure what could be done differently with this heading… You would either have to make it even longer (really long) to explain the content, which would then defeat the purpose of having a content body to the article, OR you would have to just put ‘man upset about rule changes’ which isn’t very helpfully descriptive.

        I think that what has happened here is that due to the amount of clickbait titles that exist in the world The Dolphins have become hair-triggered by titles that look like click-bait… I can accept that without reading the article, the headline does look like something you would see on Facebook with an article of no substance behind it.

    2. I refuse to read this article because the the “click bait”-inspired headline. Just came to say that and now I’m closing this page.

      I mean all they care about is that you opened the page. If you then just close it without reading you are just cheating yourself

  6. From my limited experience of F1, major rule changes spread the field out.

    1. Exactly, which is why they put very tight restrictions.

      1. Which basically turns it into GP1.

        I hate the restrictive nature of the 2021 regulations, Just isn’t F1 as far as i’m concerned. They should go other other way & open things up rather than restrict things further.

        F1 is supposed to be the pinnace of the sport, It’s supposed to allow for creative & innovative thinking by having a set of regulations open enough to allow for such things. This is what gave F1 ground effects to begin with, Colin Chapman had the regulative freedom to do so just as Gordon Murray had the freedom to combat that with the fan car.

        We would never have any of these amazing bits of design & engineering under the GP1 regulations that will be replacing F1 in 2021.

        1. @roger-ayles Fair enough but of course you do realize that opening things up as you would wish not only raises costs at a time when those are out of hand, but also advantages the most resourced teams. Hey I don’t want F1 to be too spec either, but personally I think these changes are needed at this point in time to get F1 into a more sustainable mode. Perhaps as they tweak the rules over the next few years they might open it up a little, or maybe in a handful of years, but for now I don’t mind them doing what they are, and consider it a good platform from which to work. If the racing is indeed close and exciting I’m not sure how many will still complain about it being too spec. It is a tough balance for any series to meet, no?

          Sure I take your point that freedom gave us ground effects etc, but at the same time it is also what has made F1 practically unsustainable for all but the top 3 teams. I’ll take an F1 that has had to resort to a bit of ‘specness’ out of the need to police themselves after too much excess, over no F1 at all, any day.

          1. @robbie

            opening things up as you would wish not only raises costs at a time when those are out of hand, but also advantages the most resourced teams.

            I’m not against the budget cap & with a budget cap in place I see no reason why you couldn’t open up the regulations & bring back some of the creative thinking & clever ideas F1 was once known for.

            Think about it. You have the budget cap of $170m with a set of regulations that locks down the dimensions of the car & the safety requirements & then let teams spend there budget how they wish. Maybe Mercedes sticks with a safe/basic design concept while Ferrari try something a bit more creative while you have maybe Williams come out the box with something really innovative that brings them to the front.

            The focus of the regulations is all on the show, I care more about the sport & it just feels to me like there stripping 90% of the things that drew me to F1 & have kept me hooked on it for 45 years. The SPORT, The technology, The pushing of limits/boundaries etc. I was never a fan for show or entertainment, I could get that from many other lower/spec series if I wanted it.. I have loved F1 because it’s the pinnacle & I fear there moving towards GP1 & leaving the longer-term fans like myself nowhere to go because looking at the current show focussed spec series landscape there isn’t really another category that offers what F1 traditionally has. You used to have CART as a decent alternative but the current Indycar been as spec as it is doesn’t interest me as much as it once did, Same for many of the other lower categories. It’s all too locked down & show driven now because people have such low attention spans today that the sort of actual pure RACING SPORT of 20-30+ years ago is simply seen as too dull today sadly because there wasn’t 100 overtakes every corner.

            Makes me sad to see where the SPORT has gone the past 5-10 years :(

          2. @roger-ayles In the last 5-10 years they changed to the most technical and complex cars ever, with their hybrid power units. So there’s your technology for you. And for the new chapter these power units remain. It should also be noted Brawn, and I think the majority of people, are not for 100 overtakes every corner. Brawn has spoken about the desire with the new cars to invite more close battles. He is about that, not more passes just for the sake of the numbers. They are trying to get rid of drs too, which I think is great as it has indeed damaged the integrity of the sport. But that was a BE thing borne of giving all the power to the top 4 teams over his last decade of reign. With the current complex power units and cars finally shed of their clear air dependence via tunnels for ground effects and less clean air dependent wings, I’m not sure how much more technically advanced, as well as separate from any other series the pinnacle can and will be in 2021. Brawn is trying to bring the sport back by inviting close battles and thus the art of defending preferably sans drs which makes those passes indefensible. I don’t think we could have asked more from the post-BE chapter.

  7. I don’t believe this for one second.

    F1 teams are incredibly good at producing balanced racing cars. Just look at Mercedes they often come to testing with a dog of a car. By the first race their car purrs like a kitten around the time for P3 and roars like a Lion in Q2-Q3.

  8. Hm. This contradicts actual tests conducted by Research Group…

    I wonder what we will really see in 2021.

  9. Just the right side of ‘nasty’ would be: difficult for the under-talented and rookies to handle, manageable for the gifted and experienced. I.e. how it should be.

  10. Is it just me, or everytime a team makes a complaint regarding the 2021 rules, said team is Racing Point. Do they have issues developing the new car or something? They complained about the cars becoming “7s slower”, and now this.

  11. Isn’t it a given that there will be necessary fine tuning and adjustments with any major reg change. No news there.

    I think that a major concern should be whether the bigger teams are going to find loop holes on the spending caps. If the bigger teams continue to find ways to throw more money at the technology issues than the smaller teams, then nothing much will change. Merc has about double the number of aero and other technical designers and as result they always manage to squeeze those extra tenths and hundreds or seconds out of the cars and they’re more agile when it comes to correcting problems, esp with new regs.

  12. The logic behind the wheel covers and tyre fin thingys makes sense for the reduction of out-wash. Something that the designers take advantage of to increase downforce.
    The idea of going to a tunnel based ground effects and reducing wing sizes also … sort of … makes sense. The new wings depicted in the renderings do not seem to be any smaller than the current 2019 versions.
    What I would really like someone to explain is how the ground effects aero is going to be controlled.
    In the previous versions of ground effects, one of the issues was how sensitive the cars were to ride height and resulting down-force. As the car suspension gets compressed, downforce increases pushing it down harder. There were videos of cars porpoising down the track at speed.
    This is what (my understanding) prompted teams to design active suspension systems to control ride-height independent of downforce. Some were much better at it than others.
    With the ban on moveable aero, how are the designers going to control ride height.? Are we just going to see continuous sparks as the chassis rub-blocks get dragged along the surface all the way round the track.?
    It will be fascinating to see this all develop, and like others, I suspect some teams will nail it and most will flounder at the back of the grid. Will it solve the dirty air issue, we should find out in a year or two.?

    1. Partly a better understanding of the problem, which led to the, relatively closely prescribed underbody tunnels, instead of flat floor with strakes @rekibsn

  13. The cars shouldn’t be ‘Nasty’ to drive, They should be tricky but predictable.

    That is the thing people don’t think about when looking back to the past & talking about cars been harder to drive. They were physically harder due to manual shifting, No power steering etc.. But the best cars were still ‘easy’ & predictable at the limit. Cars say prior to say the 1980’s weren’t drifting/sliding around because they were difficult to drive, They were doing so because they were predictable & drivers had faith in them that they could control the slide.

    One of the first things you always hear when more recent drivers step into historic cars isn’t how difficult to drive they were, It’s how easy/predictable they were.

    If cars are too hard to drive & are snappy/unpredictable then they don’t give drivers confidence which therefore means they don’t feel comfortable pushing them at the limits.

    1. @gt-racer, whilst it may be the case that the designers want to produce a car that is predictable to drive so the drivers can consistently maximise the performance of the cars, whether they can actually achieve that in practise is another matter.

      There have been instances in the past where, in the period after a rule change, the cars haven’t necessarily been predictable to drive because the rule changes have sometimes had unexpected consequences that made a car less predictable (for example, I believe the rule changes in the mid to late 1990s that were intended to slow the cars down also made the aerodynamics of the cars more pitch sensitive and less predictable).

  14. As a retired designer, (electronics), I believe in two things.

    There will always be unintended consequences.

    Murphy was an optimist.

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