Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya

Why this could be the last year for ‘mind-blowing’ F1 cars

2020 F1 season

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The new generation of Formula 1 cars look set to be the fastest ever following the first week of testing.

Last year’s champions Mercedes are already almost half a second quicker than they were at the same test last year. Corners like turns three and nine at the Circuit de Catalunya, where drivers were once forced to lift, are now merely curved straights.

Drivers from midfield teams were tackling them without lifting on their second lap of testing on a stone-cold track. And those lucky enough to be in silver cars found even greater potential from their cars.

“It’s a lot of fun” grinned Valtteri Bottas on Friday, after setting the benchmark time of testing so far. “Especially today when I finally got to do at more performance running type of things. Actually pushing the car more was really enjoyable.

“It’s so impressive, every pre-season test it blows your mind how quick the cars are especially though to the high-speed corners. Obviously every year you get improvement in terms of how the car drives and behaves and a similar thing with the engine. Things are just getting better and better and more advanced and so very much enjoying myself and the grip of the G-forces and the power and everything so good fun.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
“It’s great to do lap records but I prefer good racing”
The current generation of Formula 1 aerodynamics arrived in 2017. A loosening of the regulations and a widening of the cars gave designers more freedom to pile downforce onto the cars. A target to knock five seconds off lap times at the Spanish circuit was comfortably beaten. Times have fallen by another 3.7 seconds since then.

That trend is expected to be reversed next year when F1 imposes new technical regulations on the cars which are both radically different and much more restrictive than what teams enjoy at present. Surface aerodynamics will be simplified, though some downforce recouped through large underbody tunnels. The cars will also be heavier, slowing them yet further.

Some teams have chafed at what they see as a stifling of innovation. But for many the goal of these changes – allowing the cars to race together more closely – is one worth pursuing.

They also differ over how much slower next year’s cars will be. F1 has made steps backwards in the past, invariably due to changes in the rules. The introduction of the current V6 hybrid turbo engine format, for example, saw lap times at the Circuit de Catalunya rise by over four seconds.

Exactly how much slower F1 cars will be next year is a matter of some conjecture. Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer suggested last year the performance loss will be as much as seven seconds per lap; McLaren technical director James Key suggested they “could actually be quite close”.

But the impact of the new rules for the 2021 F1 season won’t just be felt in how much slower the cars are initially, but how much scope the teams have to make them faster. Formula 1 has talked in terms of reducing the gains teams can find from refining their designs to hundredths rather than tenths of a second.

The designers and engineers may hate the idea, but as much as drivers enjoy the performance levels F1 can reach, many see it as a trade off worth making. “It’s great to do lap records but to be honest, I prefer good racing,” said Max Verstappen last week.

Otmar Szafnauer, Racing Point, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Szafnauer predicted F1 cars could be seven seconds slower
“The cars are amazing to drive. I mean they are super-fast. And for sure we’ll breaks some lap records.

“But when you’re following a car, it’s just impossible. There is such a big downforce loss. And of course, every year the cars are getting faster so it’s just getting worse and worse. Definitely for next year I think the cars will not be as enjoyable to drive. But I just hope that the racing will be better.”

Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo expressed similar sentiments last year.

However much slower F1 will be next year remains to be seen. The teams’ battalions of engineers will have the final say on the matter, and are never to be underestimated. But if the sport does lose its ‘mind-blowing’ performance, hopefully we will have the consolation of mind-blowing races instead.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
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  • 57 comments on “Why this could be the last year for ‘mind-blowing’ F1 cars”

    1. Really curious how the whole Mercedes steering system(DAS) plays out in coming days. Like Ricciardo pointed out, it really should have been the competition keeping the Mercedes on its toes while its otherway around with the hybrid era domination.

      1. I think Mercedes have managed to pull off one of the most brilliant innovations in F1, and done so in a way that almost guarantees them exclusive use to it for an entire year. Hopefully, the F1 community will start considering innovation, rather than restriction, as a way to level the playing field.

        But I doubt it.

    2. Racing in the 80s was great, even thought the cars were more than 10 seconds per lap slower than the current. No one ever said that the cars from the 80s were dull.

      I really see no issue in the cars being slower.

      1. Nobody called the cars in the 80’s slow or dull because at the time they were the fastest in history to that point & the cars having 1,000bhp+ in qualifying helped create the spectacle.

        For me the overall performance of the cars & the spectacle that creates is part of the allure. Slowing them down a bit isn’t so bad but if they get too slow (As they did from 2014-16 & a lot of fans & drivers complained about how slow they looked) it just takes away from the overall thrill of watching them.

        1. @stefmeister 2016 wasn’t exceedingly bad on every single circuit, though. Bahrain, for example. The 2016 pole-time would’ve been enough to reach Q3 in all of the last three seasons, but of course, tracks like Circuit de Catalunya, the 2016 pole time would’ve led to a grid-spot at the very back and would’ve only barely managed to stay within the 107% rule, which mightn’t be the case next time around anymore.

      2. Be interested to know how old you are? I watched racing in the 80s and whilst you could get good races, of course, you got the same fair share of duds. Not only that useless TV production following local hero trundling round in 12th, limited cameras and no in car footage meant even if it was good you didn’t necessarily see it.

        1. I have full recordings of all the races back to the late 70s. I was not comparing with the racing. Yes, in some races at twenty laps to go the leader had 30 seconds over the second and a lap over the third, still the race was not monotonous because you knew that any of them could still have a mechanical failure.

          My comparison was not about the racing but about this general idea that fastest lap times mean more interesting cars. That’s not true, in other ages we had much slower cars than today that are still considered mind blowing cars.

          1. If you like slow cars, you should really check out F2, or even Indy car.

            F1 is, and always has been, about technical Innovation. If you want to watch kids play soccer, GO WATCH KIDS PLAY SOCCER! But don’t try and force the big leagues to play like children. F1 is a team sport.

            1. Its about technical innovation AND competitive environment. F1 wont stop being a laboratory for technical innovation, but we will see them playing a smaller role from now on. I accept the trade for it to be more unpredictable.

              Dont you?

      3. JCCJCC, actually, there are a number of people who did complain about the cars and the races in the 1980s – especially after 1984, when the restrictions on fuel tank size forced drivers to have to manage their fuel consumption far more heavily. It’s not hard to find contemporary articles complaining about dull races and how the cars were only impressive in qualifying trim because they were being forced to manage their performance, and driving below their potential, in race trim.

    3. I for one am highly sceptical of the “new generation” of cars for 2021. They don’t look particularly good from the schematics shown so far, may be way slower and whether they actually can improve The Show™ remains to be seen, especially since F1’s appeal lies mostly in seeing insane open-wheelers driven by the very best in the world doing insane performance (when it comes to actual close racing, F1 will never be on par with so much as IndyCar, let alone actual overtake fests such as MotoGP – which I incidentally don’t enjoy, so it’s not like everyone wants the same things out of motorsport).

      With the FIA and Brawn already declaring open season on anyone making use of rule loopholes, I fear the new rules won’t even shake up the order to any relevant degree. So all in all we’ll have the same old faces with the same old advantage at the top all whilst the cars perform worse and look worse. Not a very thrilling outlook.

      1. You’ve had a guess on what it will be based on a highly subjective scepticism, then decided that based on that subjective view, you’ll have a guess what the racing will be like and what the rule makers will decide. On all of that you’ve then extrapolated its therefore going to be poor.

    4. The lesson from Mercedes Duel Axis Steering System is there always seems to be a loophole in the rules. So yes, the cars might initially be slower (although I doubt they will be significantly slower), but then someone will find both a loophole and a way to exploit it (meaning their car will be faster – Hurrah!!).

      1. +1 Facts. The FIA may have thrown a team of engineers at the regs this time but they will be no match for the highest paid and most brilliant minds in motor sport employed by the teams themselves.

        Maybe people should stop moaning about it and just wait and see ffs.

    5. So, even seven seconds compared to today’s would be clearly faster than the 2016 cars? I was already in on these rules, Max Verstappen definitely has it right for me, but even when not, the 2021 cars would still be faster than most of the generations before!

    6. I dont care some much about a second here or there, if the overtakes are better im happy. And I hope there will be many loopholes to exploit with a completely new set of rules, that makes it fun when some teams are more creative than others, thats whats make f1 special.

      1. Can someone tell why I’m meant to believe these aero changes are going to result in great racing? I mean ross brawns changes last year that were meant to make racing easier turned out to do the complete opposite and were a disaster. What happens if he has screwed up again?

        1. the 2021 changes on the aero side are far bigger than what we had last year (which was a bolt-on type of change, only affecting parts of the front wing). The new cars will be a lot more dependent on ground effect to deliver downforce, which is a miles better in terms of wake and dirty air. This alone will make the cars be able to follow more closely.

        2. Adam the rules were not the complete opposite and a disaster, there were indications the cars were a bit easier in following each other, even if it wasn’t enough to make overtaking doable enough, it likely helped in not making the cars even worse than in 2018 (as happened from 2017 to 2018).

          But the 2017 rules were clearly not good for racing, they only dealt with making them faster, and the 2019 change didn’t change them enough to do more. As @gechichan wrote, the 2021 rules are a lot more comprehensive. And 2019 did validate the method, as they hoped, I suspect.

          1. @bosyber the feedback from the drivers was mixed on whether those changes worked, with some suggesting it made a marginal difference compared to 2018, whilst some suggested the 2019 front wings had no effect or perhaps even made things worse.

            On average, I think that the majority of the feedback tended towards the neutral position, where the drivers suggested that the benefit was either non-existent or too small to make any meaningful difference. I’d thus be wary of saying that “2019 did validate the method”, as the feedback from that change sounds like it tended towards an inconclusive result.

        3. turned out to do the complete opposite and were a disaster. What happens if he has screwed up again?

          The 5 consecutive thrillers following Paul Ricard beg to differ with you.

          Honestly wonder if some people on here even watch the sport and if they do, do they have a scooby what’s actually going on most the time.

          Utter nonsense.

      2. @maisch With the new rules comes the ability to close down”loopholes” immediately ,so being creative will be strongly discouraged.

        1. Yeah, that was really worrying, i hope creativity and ambitous engineering isnt dead with the 2021 regs, that would be devestating.

    7. Lol, Mercedes are enjoying themself out there. Not a good sign for the season.

      1. Mercedes with all their advantage in testing might really go for the record books in this coming season.

        Most wins in a seaons is on for one, or other of their drivers.

        If the Gods favours Lewis again, then he’ll equal Schumacers record for championships,
        whilst breaking his record for race wins.

        The most points by an indivdual driver could also be on.

        And then there are those track records which will be dropping like nine-pins this season.

        The team to deliver those results will never be forgotten, a decade from now they’ll be taking
        about the 2020 season of records, the team of designers and engineers who helped to achive this.

    8. If all tv graphics indicating speed were removed and commentators didn’t mention shoes. It’s unlikely that any of the at home viewing b public would even notice anyway.

      It’ll only be a point for contention because it will keep being thrust upon us that they are slower.

      1. I would notice & in fact do when I go back & watch old footage. I’ve found over the years that i’ve got accustomed to seeing a certain level of performance. You get used to seeing them go through certain corners at a certain speed & for me at least it’s very obvious to me very quickly when there slower.

        I for instance can easily spot during practice sessions when a car is pushing on a qualifying lap or doing a race run even without any graphics on the screen because I can just tell visually that the cars look slower.

        Not necessarily saying that’s good or bad but I do & have always felt that the overall performance is part of the spectacle & that slowing them down too much will take away part of the thrill of watching them.

        1. Cars look quicker in the late 90s to me. They may be 14 seconds slower on some tracks but they look quicker.

          The current cars look quickest in practice when they are properly pushing the limits. Even in qually they leave half a tenth as a buffer. Probably what I hate about this era the most, the fact that practice is the best bit.

        2. The cars of the 80’s and 90’s look faster to me. The lap times are meaningless. I think it is more about how planted they look now and how there is very little driver input on display.

          1. @darryn Not to me. For example I was watching the 1998 Italian Gp qualifying session recently & kept thinking drivers on hot laps had backed off because of how much slower they were through the Lesmos compared to modern cars. Could just tell visually that they were carrying a lot less speed than what i’ve become used to.

            Maybe i’m just more sensitive at picking up stuff like that than others.

    9. They will be slower for one year, maybe, but they’ll dial it back in with smart use of ground effect. The underbody tunnels haven’t been used since the early 80’s, when they were banner for making the cars dangerously fast under those regulations, so who knows what the current tech and briliant minds of today’s F1 can achieve…!?

      1. +1 – 3rd year of regs we may actualy have cars quicker than the current ones. Entirely possible.

    10. Last mind-blowing year or at least on the voice side was 2013. I highly doubt sounds will ever go back pre-hybrid era. I’m not sure about the aesthetic of these cars but bloody hell these are quick. For my point of view these things define F1 as it is.

    11. Based on experience across other big rule changes:

      1- 2021 cars are going to be slower than 2020 ones, but not more than 4 seconds. Probably less than 2s. In two/three years, if the rules don’t change big things, they are going to be faster.

      2- 2021 cars are NOT going to be even close (aesthetically) to the renders F1 is showing.

      3- Overtaking and “ease of chasing” are not going to be heavily increased

      4- The new wheels are going to be a problem, and more than one team is going to talk bad about them during the season.

      5- At least one new big rule is going to be deployed during the year to stop a team to exploit a rule-hole.

      If next year, mid-season, 4 of these 5 things have not been fulfilled, I leave a mustache for three months.

      1. @esmiz

        3- Overtaking and “ease of chasing” are not going to be heavily increased

        Considering that this is the main reason given for the changes I hope you are wrong. I’m willing to wait and see despite my doubts.
        Brawn sticking his nose into the motorhomes that the teams use is a problem though, unless he and Liberty media can guarantee that the F1 teams will be given proper facilities he should but out. The reduction in budgets will start to sort things out soon enough.

      2. I would guess that the team who comes up with the best suspension solution will rule for at least a season or two. The suspension will dictate to a large extent how the tyres wear, heat and cool and generally perform.

      3. Yo have experience of big rule changes in F1?

        1. Except for 2016 and 2020, there have been “big rule changes” (ie, that required redesigning the car) every year since 2009.

          2009, 2014, 2017 in particular, were “major” rule changes.

          So yes, anyone who’s been watching for the past 10 years is familiar with just how hard the powers-that-be in F1 can screw things up by trying to improve them.

      4. My prediction is very similar to yours. In the last 30 years F1 had a lot of big changes to increase racing quality, but apart from a few early season confusing races the results were very far from the expected and things remained basically the same.

        F1 has a big problem that won’t be easy to solve. The easiest way to make a car faster in the kind of circuits F1 have is adding a wing here and there and increase downforce, ao that’s the way the engineers go to improve the car.
        unfortunatelly that’s also that what makes the cars very hard to follow.

      5. I think the wheels are the most overlooked aspect of the changes. That is such a fundamental change, since currently the tires are an integral suspension part, and why they have stayed on 13″ wheels with huge sidewalls. Then add the much heavier wheels and tires. I suspect we will see lots of broken suspensions as they figure out the new dynamics.

        Can’t wait to see them attack Canada’s Champions Corner with high curbs on low profiles. Gone are the days of smashing through and those amazing slow mo’s of the tires deflecting as they pound their way through. Precision will be paramount. Not saying one is better or worse, but it is a major change for designers, tracks, and drivers to each handle.

      6. @esmiz – I think this is a pretty comprehensive list of 2021 events. I, like others, hope the prediction about very limited impact on racing / ability to follow / ability to pass or set up a pass, but I think it will be very limited.

        I appreciate what Brawn and F1 are at least trying to do, but it doesn’t seem to go far enough. I don’t know what the answer is, or if there is a good answer, but this really seems like 2019 changes only better. Unfortunately, 2019 changes were essentially nil. So, maybe this will be a slight impact? Maybe.


        1. Edited:

          I hope the prediction of a limited impact on racing … is wrong… But I fear it will be limited as @esmiz notes.

    12. Change! People hate change and none more so that F1 fans…..bring 2021 on I say. No one will be watching physical F1 soon, unpolluting, carbon-neutral sim racing is better and more exciting in any case.

      1. I do not know under what definition of the word “exciting” watching a bunch of losers play video games is more exciting than motorsport, but I do no know that it is a definition not shared by normal human beings.

    13. The last for now, but hopefully, and probably not for a long time – the initial estimation for the lap time-loss is 3-3.5 seconds, but I hope it’d be less than that once the relevant season comes around. Nevertheless, we better enjoy it while we can with these massively fast cars and cornering-speeds, especially before the probable break comes.

    14. But for many the goal of these changes – allowing the cars to race together more closely – is one worth pursuing.

      It is not worth it.
      And these many are morAns, and hopefully they realize that they are killing F1 before it is dead.

    15. I wonder how much faster the 2021 cars will be down the straight?

    16. i hope Monza time 1’19”119 does not fall this year :)

    17. Mind-blowing cars that can follow each other closely sounds even better.

    18. I expect that the efforts to improve racing by restricting innovation and design options will be as successful as cost reduction efforts have been at reducing costs in F1.

      In short, a total disaster.

      Every time the FIA has banned something in the name of cost savings, the big teams have simply spent their way around the problem, while the small teams have *no* option to improve their cars.

      If the FIA and Liberty had pursued allowing the teams access to *actual* grid leveling technology, it would be one thing– let the teams have tuneable suspension– perhaps not fully active, but being able to dynamically adjust damping and rebound (like, say, a $50k USD Corvette) would go a long way to improving the aero performance. THAT could be a standard package.

      But no, we have to ban anything resembling dynamic suspension, because of something that happened in 1993. The teams are given increasingly strict aero regulations– which produces equally strict aero configurations that can’t tolerate any suspension movement, and requires strict accuracy. Which the smaller teams can’t afford. So the big three develop wings that flex when they should, but not when they shouldn’t, or a linked *passive* suspension, or suspension that kneels going into a corner– and the small teams are left farther behind.

      With no access to in-season testing, or full-size wind tunnels, Williams can afford to bring one design (maybe) to Winter testing. And if it doesn’t work, they don’t have the time, or the resources, to bring a drastically different car to Melbourne. Meanwhile, the big three teams have multiple designs in the pipeline simultaneously, and can switch from a bad idea to a good idea, and only lose a couple weeks.

      Every major rule change since 2009 has led to more expensive development and less competition. And the same people are making the rules for 2021.

      Why should we expect anything but a disaster?

      1. grat, actually, interlinked passive suspension was a pretty old idea – Tyrrell had their “Hydrolink” suspension system in the mid 1990s, though they dropped it as it proved to be too difficult for them to fine tune.

        Equally, it was actually one of the smaller teams that had the best interlinked passive suspension system, not necessarily one of the “big three”. Whilst Lotus did not get a chance to use their “reactive ride height” suspension system, the conventional interlinked passive system they had on their car was reckoned to be the best in the field – it was one reason why Lotus were so competitive in 2012 and 2013, and the subsequent restrictions were a contributing factor towards their decline in competitiveness in 2014 (albeit that the 2014 car had a lot of other faults as well, not to mention the wider problems the team had at the time).

        1. Tyrrell may have had the idea, but they didn’t make it work. Brawn and Mercedes made FRIC work well enough that it was banned in an effort to slow down Mercedes, but as you say, Lotus suffered more from than ban– for Mercedes, it was “a” trick on their car.

          For Lotus, it was apparently “the” trick on their car.

          Regardless, it was a lot of money in development wasted, all because the teams aren’t allowed to run modern suspension systems that could be bought off the shelf in a standard package.

    19. The main issue for 2021 to fix is not the cars but the racing. Too much downforce, extremely heavy engines making the cars heavy, tires that melt as soon as you attack and total mercedes domination. Downforce is getting fixed and hopefully the rule change also ends mercedes domination (or they leave). Heavy engines are going to stay which means fuel saving and minimal incentive to push will stay. Drs also stays but fia has the option to opt out of using drs. I don’t think they’ll do that but it is a nice dream to have.

      In addition to those issues there is the another issue of F1 and F1.5. There is huge gap between the top 3 teams and the rest. I’d say out of all issues the mercedes domination and the F1/F1.5 issues are the biggest by far. If there is an honest scrap for the championship and a mid fielder can occasionally win then I think better quality of racing and overtaking is just a plus. I hope f1 has got it right but if merc keeps winning and there is still that huge gap I don’t think the show is improved much.

    20. We might notice speed differences in qualifying but in the races, we won’t notice it at all. For 2020 we should be hoping for much closer racing action. If we get that, no one will be complaining about a few seconds here and there.

    21. I don’t mind laptimes at all. Although of course I’d like to see more freedom for engineers. I don’t like allowing things for only a year, or backing off if some team really finds an edge on others, while they are doing it safely.
      What about allowing fancy aero, to have distinct chassis desings, but including a (relatively strict, but not so strict) dirty-air-coefficient thus having a numeric, measurable value, and to use that value to BOP the engines and turbos a bit. Not to completely erase differences, but only to punish car designs which are producing too much dirty air.
      Imo a completely equal BOP system would not be F1, and BOP probably caused the WTCR’s quite fast decline after this so called “super season”. Although it was a nice WTCR season, with a strong field, fans and manufacturers and sponsors are not mature enough to have a BOP to compensate all of the differences. Especially that it can lead to some ugly tactics, like deliberately underperformig teammates to support the one who has chances to win the championship. And also it is not fair to teams producing better designs either. Although many teams and drivers quitting the WTCR now is due to that they are preparing to the electric engined TC racing series coming soon too. Historic, crazy and diva cars are amongst my favourites at simulators, but the nice mid engined feeling an electric car can deliver is charming too, so I only can love them.
      I’d like to see something mildly balanced, not completely restrictive on aero, huge diffusers, sane, more reasonable costs at R&D, and bit less restrictive and braver FIA decisions at allowance of innovations like the DAS, and some automated systems, I won’t mind some more (even automated) automated systems, and forget these high durability standards a bit. Things can be done manually by the drivers are quite well known nowadays so being too rigid is just towards further cost increases for small improvements.
      Cost cap is so hard to police, so probably frauds to get around cost cap, and other rules should be criminalized and punished by law, because this is about so much money.
      I understand why Ross Brawn is not completely satisfied with the outcome of negotiations about the 2021 rules, those rules just became a quite good but far from ultimate compromise. The riches just can not afford to go full yolo and go back to the eighties’ colorful and a bit random era. But that would allow small teams to get on the top occasionally, with some authentic design, not being binned for being too good and hurt others interest. The 200metres long condensation trail of the frequently blowing engine of the Stewart Gp car is much more F1 for me than this let’s do 6000 km with a single PU era.

    22. Ross Brawn and co we’re going to be on a hiding to nothing whatever they proposed. There is always going to be a section of fans who are unhappy and pile in with the criticism.

      The way I see it the current version of the sport has too major issues. One that cars cannot race each other very well when close and two that there is a huge gap in competitiveness between the top 3 teams and rest.

      So they have come up with a proposed solution which may or may not work. Who knows what the outcome will be. There will certainly be problems early on with things not turning out as expected. We know this will happen but I hope people give the post 2021 rules a fair chance.

      I for one don’t really give a hoot how fast the cars are as long as the racing is closer and more competitive. Then personally aesthetics are quite important to me so I really hope the new cars look decent. I think the current cars are really ugly to be honest compared to more simple, beautiful lines of the 1980s up to 2000.

      It is important as well though that there is room for world’s top engineers and designers to innovate to some extent as well. That’s part of the DNA of F1.

    23. They will be slower for one year, maybe, but they’ll dial it back in with smart use of ground effect. The underbody tunnels haven’t been used since the early 80’s, when they were banner for making the cars dangerously fast under those regulations, so who knows what the current tech and briliant minds of today’s F1 can achieve…!?

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