Red Bull wind tunnel, 2014

Should F1 introduce new ‘aero handicap’ rules?

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Formula 1 teams have approved plans to introduce new ‘aero handicap’ rules to the sport.

Under the regulations, which were first revealed by RaceFans, different restrictions on aerodynamic development would be imposed on each team depending on where they finished in the previous year’s championship. The most successful teams would face tighter limits on how much wind tunnel and CFD work they can do compared to their rivals.

The FIA World Motor Sport Council will decide whether the rules are added to the regulations. Should they approve or reject the plan?


The ‘aero handicap’ would help correct the significant performance gap between the ‘big three’ teams and the rest of the field which has developed in recent seasons. This has seen that trio win every race since the beginning of 2014.

Changing that will help remedy one of F1’s biggest problems and promote closer, better racing.


Fundamentally, this is no different to introducing success ballast or similar gimmicks which F1 has rightly shunned. It rewards those who’ve under-performed and punished excellence. It’s the exact opposite of what F1 should be doing.

Though it may close the field up, it will do it by further undermining the fairness of the competition.

I say

I could just about get on board with this idea if it was sold as a short-term measure to re-balance the competition, which has been distorted by years of grossly imbalanced prize money payments. These have favoured the big teams and allowed them to build up a huge advantage over the others.

But that doesn’t make it any less a fundamentally unfair idea. And one which I fear could do at least as much harm as good.

Consider that in 2016 and 2017 Force India (now Racing Point) managed to finish fourth in the championship with lesser resources than many of the teams they beat. This was a triumph of resourcefulness which, under these rules, would be punished by a reduction in their capacity to develop the following year.

You say

Should Formula 1 introduce the ‘aero handicap’ rules? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

Do you agree F1 should introduce the planned new 'aero handicap' rules?

  • No opinion (1%)
  • Strongly disagree (45%)
  • Slightly disagree (16%)
  • Neither agree nor disagree (3%)
  • Slightly agree (20%)
  • Strongly agree (15%)

Total Voters: 150

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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...

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43 comments on “Should F1 introduce new ‘aero handicap’ rules?”

  1. I couldn’t disagree more strongly.

  2. This aero handicap seems a bit like DRS to me. A short term fix to a problem that really needs fixing by more fundamental changes.

    Encouragingly liberty have addressed both these issues with the new regs. Here’s hoping it translates on the track as hoped.

    1. DRS was supposed to be a temporary measure until things improve…yet it is still here, now to be complemented by this new idea…

  3. I’m against the cost cap for multiple reasons I won’t go into here but if it is going ahead it’s the perfect opportunity to free up regulations on development and let teams try new ideas not tighten things up.

    Formula 1 is a team sport and the development race is what sets it apart from other series, if they penalize engineering success they might as well start using ballast on the drivers who win.

    1. @glynh the indication is that there is no intention of freeing up the regulations, either now or for the foreseeable future. Instead, it seems the cost cap will be implemented through the use of even tighter regulations that have the intention of restricting development (whilst also forcing a specific aerodynamic philosophy onto all of the cars).

  4. Of course not!
    Another atrocity!

    Another attempt to kill F1.

  5. Graham (@amancalledchuda)
    24th May 2020, 12:26

    I strongly disagree for two reasons…

    First, the ‘aero handicap’ idea will even up the performance of the Driver/Car combinations (not just the car itself). As a consequence, the results of each race will become more and more a luck-driven lottery, as the performance of all the Driver/Car combinations even out. Do we want the best Driver/Car combinations to be winning races, or the winners to be determined by luck?

    Second, with all the Driver/Car combinations being evened out as the season progresses, won’t overtaking become harder and harder? These days in F1 you need a significant advantage over the car in front to be able to overtake it. With all advantages being removed, how does anyone overtake? Again, you’ll have to be lucky, won’t you?

    1. Graham, you are suggesting, by extension, that the results of most racing series that use a single chassis/aero package are also determined by luck.
      If that’s what you mean, I would most definitely disagree with you suggestion. Driver and team performance plays a much larger role in those instances where the cars are effectively the same. The race is won on that weekend, not in winter testing ‘X’ months earlier as is the case in F1 now.

      The biggest issue with implementing this type of BoP system (let’s just call it what it is) is that it’s effect isn’t specific to a single race, or even a single season. It can send a successful team on a downward spiral for several years.
      As we have seen many times in the past, when the big (often manufacturer backed) teams can’t compete for wins anymore, they tend to bail out of the sport altogether.

      If such a system is to be implemented at all – then a success ballast system would be far more acceptable. Individual car performance can be adjusted on a per-race basis while development can proceed regardless. Effect is immediate and can be undone at any time, unlike stifling progress of the entire team through team-based development allocations.

      1. Graham (@amancalledchuda)
        24th May 2020, 17:36

        Graham, you are suggesting, by extension, that the results of most racing series that use a single chassis/aero package are also determined by luck.

        No, I’m not saying that at all.

        Let me try and explain….

        Imagine we have a Driver/Car combination ‘A’, with a driver of skill value 10 and a car of performance value 10. The overall performance value of this Driver/Car combination ‘A’ = 20.

        Then we have Driver/Car combination ‘B’, with a driver of skill value 1 and a car of performance value 1. The overall performance value of this Driver/Car combination ‘B’ = 2.

        So, 20 vs 2. Who’s going to win the race, do you think? It’s ‘A’, every time, isn’t it? (Assuming no bad luck for ‘A’, of course.)

        But now we add handicaps until we reach:- ‘A’ = Driver 10 + Car 10 – handicap 18 (10 + 10 – 18) = 2

        ‘B’ hasn’t scored any points yet, so has no handicap, so ‘B’ = Driver 1 + Car 1 – handicap 0 (1 + 1 – 0) = 2

        So, now we have ‘A’ = 2 vs ‘B’ = 2. Who’s going to win the race now? Well, with the overall Driver/Car/Handicap performance of the two cars identical at 2, neither car has an advantage, so… all you have left is luck.

        In racing series that use a single chassis/aero package, the driver skill is still different, so, if the cars both have performance values of, say, 5, then Driver/Car combination ‘A’ would be 10 + 5 =15. While Driver/Car combination ‘B’ would be 1 + 5 = 6.

        So, with a 15 vs 6 performance difference car ‘A’ would be far more likely to win. So, not determined by luck at all.

        1. Drivers and team crew are not robots, though. The driver can make mistakes, as can the pit crew and strategists.
          That’s not luck, that’s the human performance element – and it will still be different every time.
          Even many elements of ‘luck’ (such as weather or safety cars) still require some judgement and strategic reaction – do you pit, or not? Inters, or slicks? Add or remove some front wing? Adjust tyre pressures?

          The best racing in F1 has never come from one car being substantially faster than another. It usually comes from how close in performance two cars are, when risks need to be taken to make an overtake or when a strategic gamble plays out. It also comes from that element of luck; weather, SC or reliability issues.

          1. Graham (@amancalledchuda)
            25th May 2020, 5:24

            Everything you’ve talked about is true, but, with the way things are at the moment, those elements of luck tend to be a sideshow to the racing itself. If we even out all the Driver/Car combos, then that ‘sideshow’ becomes the main feature. It will be all about who got lucky with the fastest pit stops, tire choice in the rain, pitting under the Safety Car, etc., etc. The teams will be winning the races, not the drivers.

            I worry that we’d reach a position where every race will be won as a result of some kind of good- or bad-fortune. Every race we’d be saying, “Pah! He only won because [insert whatever lucky incident allowed him to win, here].”

            That’s not what I call motor racing.

            Oh, and remember, if there aren’t any lucky/unlucky events, it could be an absolute procession, with no cars overtaking anywhere. Let’s face it, people are already complaining about the lack of overtaking in F1. I feel that this idea will just make it worse.

          2. Those elements of luck are not a sideshow to me, they are a redeeming feature.
            I guess perhaps you though Hockenheim was not a race, but a lottery? Despite it being overwhelmingly the most popular race of the season due to it’s unpredictability, the elements you describe as luck were all present and massively influenced the majority of the event.
            Teams needed to make strategic choices given all the variables of weather and strategy, while the drivers needed to use all of their skill to even finish the event. The rain is known as a great equaliser, and the results showed that.
            Hamilton won in Silverstone due, in no small part, to the timing of the Safety Car. Did he win solely because of the safety car, or because his team played the strategy in such a way as to allow them to take advantage of it?
            Teams are winning all the races now, the driver isn’t any faster than their car, and they are only truly racing their team-mate. If they are allowed to, that is.
            F1 is a team sport, not a pure driver competition as not all drivers ever have the same chance to win.

            You may call some of these elements luck and apply a negative connotation to them, but I collectively call them along with all the other factors “sport.”

  6. This is what I was wishing for ages.

    Current system is anti-competitive, results are well known.

    So purposed rule is a cheap way without cutting budgets to help backmaker teams design. Better cars.

    I would go as far as allowing bottom team unlimited aero development.

    I wouldn’t mind Williams have unlimited testing on test tracks and wind tunnel (all within budget cap.)

    1. If you want close racing, there are plenty of spec series out there with lost of unpredicatbility and overtaking. Leave F1 alone.

  7. Silly idea attacking the DNA of F1 which is innovation and excellence.

    The cost cap doesn’t effect that but restrictions on chassis and power train development within that cap is the kiss of death.

    It almost seems the FIA have no idea of what F1 is all about, why it attracts a bigger audience than F2 or other series and why it attracts the corporations providing the cash.

  8. This just seems as another attempt at some shortcut solution (as @aussierod says above) that in fact only further complicates the overall situation. It could be the first (or another?) step into a territory from which there would be no return.

  9. I don’t like the idea of a team doing well, then dropping behind because they couldn’t develop enough, then raising again because the others hd tighter restrictions. Its hard to balance that sort of thing and it’ll be a matter of who did bad enough the previous year…

    Rules stability converge cars anyway. Better to follow that path.

  10. I honestly could care less about aero. Of all the things that should be clamped down, that to me is number one. I wouldn’t even mind a spec body work.

    What I prefer to see is innovation elsewhere. I would like to see ideas like active suspension return or different engine designs. How about multiple tire manufacturers?

    1. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking for decades.
      F1 aero development serves no purpose anywhere but on the F1 car for which it was developed.

      Engine formats and designs, fuel types, tyre development, materials…. These are the areas that matter to the automotive industry. Why is so much focus put on freedom of aero development while the engine and tyre regs are locked up so tightly?
      F1 has it all backwards.

    2. I would love to see different engines and such, but at the same time aero is the only thing we as spectators can actually see. The reason aero development is so boring today is because they are developing within such strict rules that the cars look very similar anyway. With a low enough budget cap, provided it can actually be policed in a good way, all aspects of the cars design could be opened up in my opinion. It is the perfect opportunity to do so. Most, if not all, of the restrictions being piled on one after another over decades have been put in place to prevent teams spending huge amounts of money on things that barely makes a difference. With a budget cap in place it would be very interesting to see what the teams choose to spend their money on.

      1. F1 cars, to the casual observer at least, look little different to Indycars or Super Formula, or F2 or even F3. That’s just what open wheel racing cars look like, no matter which rules are in place.

        Regardless of what the cars looked like in previous eras, they did have different engines, making different noises and producing different power and torque curves, using different amounts of fuel. You may not see it, but that’s the stuff that F1 was built on.

        Totally agree with using the budget cap as a means to opening up development. I hope that F1 can see that after they have found a reasonably reliable way to police the budget cap.

  11. I disagree with everything in the article. I disagree with the idea of aero handicap. Not only is it unworkable concept but also very weird. How do you aero handicap a car for monza or monaco? Take off downforce or add drag? How do you measure it, how do you enforce it? Who measures it, who designs it? Do teams give fia the full car 3d model and fia then adds a winglet or shape to the car with the effects they want? How can teams change the car around these fia winglets? Do cars become locked down in design?

    It is just a total mess of an idea and sounds more like a sarcastic joke than something to even think about seriously. It is unenforceable, hard to define, has zillion loop holes and workarounds, has very vague targets and is totally imcompatible with the way f1 cars are raced and designed.

    I also disagree with the idea that aero handicap is the same as success ballast. Not technically or sportingly. Something like success ballast is a simple idea that works. You win – your car becomes heavier. It is simple, easy to measure to a gram and easy to check and enforce. It is a solution that exist and its effect can be estimated and understood easily and cheaply. It is a solution that technically works in racing. Is it sporting? Well, it depends but on technical level it works.

    Personally I’m fine with success ballast, even in f1. Sure the top teams might be near 1000kg at the end of the season but at least there would be a chance for someone outside the top 6 to win a race. Insane idea, I know! Even if that is not fair it is still a lot fairer than drs for example.

    1. @socksolid Seems to me you are misinterpreting the concept. A team would not have their aero physically altered ie. handicapped, so there is no need for you to ponder what they would do at Monaco vs Monza as the examples you’ve given. The handicap comes from a team being restricted in what aero development time they’d be allowed depending on their placing in the previous season. It’s not like a successful team the previous year would have to strap a 2×4 across their front wing for the next season. They’d just be allowed less tunnel time for developing their aero while the lesser teams get relatively more tunnel time to tweak their aero throughout the season. Not saying I agree with it either, but just pointing out this is about development time, not actual physical alteration of a successful team’s aero so that the lesser teams are advantaged that way.

      1. Thanks for the clarification.

  12. I voted for neither agree nor disagree as it depends on its ultimate impact, which is a bit unknown at this point. BTW, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull Racing have won all races since the beginning of 2013 to be more precise or round 2 of that season, so in the very early stages of the last V8-season, not the beginning of the hybrid era.

  13. Why not equally split the prize money between all of the teams that can pass the 107% rule under a budget cap, and have them race for the prestige alone?

  14. Given that we will have a new set of rules in 2022, I think it makes sense. The first few years of Merc-domination was painful to watch. While the teams that got it right were refining their design, it took forever for others to catch up. So I can agree having aero handicap rules for a couple of years.

  15. While I totally understand the reasoning of people that disagree, I think most are missing the point. Yes F1 is about innovation and engineering, CFD and wind tunnel analysis doesn’t really effect that. Those are used more as validation, and this wouldn’t stop engineers coming up with inventive ideas to their cars.

  16. Bottom line is regardless of all the amazing technical innovations etc close exiting racing is what gets people watching. I dont care about technical stuff anymore i want to see how good Hamilton/verstappen etc is against other drivers who can genuinely compete.

    1. @DMC There are tons of other places where you can compare drivers against each other on equal terms. F1 is one of very few places where the technical development still exists in a competitive way. That is what makes F1 special.

      1. Problem is one of market share in regards the volume of people wanting to watch technically developed but unable to race F1 cars versus the volume of people wanting to watch cars and drivers actually racing.

        Are more people interested in seeing the extra front wing elements on an F1 car or are there more people that want to see side by side racing two or even three wide.

        If more people are interested in side by side racing then a simple solution is to introduce single element front and rear wings.

        It all comes down to what market sector is larger and who has the money to watch their particular “brand” of F1.

        Unfortunately I don’t think you can have both. It is either simpler racing cars and close racing or complicated racing cars flashing past the spectator 2 or 3 seconds apart.

  17. My first reaction was very negative but after thinking it over I think it’s worth a try. We need to honestly accept that F1 has a serious, and now long running, performance imbalance that isn’t likely to lessen on it’s own. I think it’s worth experimenting with new solutions, esp over the next season or two. Hopefully, when the new regs (2022) and the lower budget caps have been in place for two or three years, artificial balance of performance rules won’t be needed.

  18. There are many instances where governments and regulators impose rules and regulations only to have those who are or should be affected, just find a way to do it differently.
    Is not the driving force behind CFD, that it is a quicker cheaper way to model and iterate designs without the time and expense of sticking a model into a wind tunnel. Dream it up, enter the data, CAD files and …. results.
    Today, you can get a legitimate CFD program and a bunch of computers tucked away in a basement that would far exceed the capability of an F1 team’s set-up from 10 years ago. Yes, Moore’s Law will render the concept of limiting CFD work obsolete in pretty short order.
    Besides, how are you going to regulate the creativity and design intelligence factor. Back to quantifying what an “A. Newey” is worth and how many a team is permitted to have on staff.
    Agree or disagree, the concept of limiting CFD time may have an impact now, but in a couple of years, it will be obsolete.

    1. @rekibsn there is limited benefit from Moore’s Law as the regulations contain explicit limits on the hardware that can be used (even if those limits are periodically revised).

  19. F1oSaurus (@)
    24th May 2020, 21:51

    which has been distorted by years of grossly imbalanced prize money payments.

    What ridiculous nonsense! Nonsense like that complete invalidates anything the article might have had to offer. So sad.

    Some teams are spending half a billion and others a third or a quarter of that. That’s NOT because of the prize money.

    1. @f1osaurus how can you say that it is “not because of the prize money” that the larger teams are able to spend so much when prize money is the single largest source of income of every single team on the grid?

      If you work with the figures that Dieter has given, then that difference in prize money is a significant reason why those bigger teams can spend so much more. In the case of Ferrari, the $205 million they earned in prize money made up 47% of their budget and was their single largest source of income; similarly, for Mercedes, their prize money of $177 million was around 43% of their budget, whilst Red Bull’s $152 million was about 45% of their budget (and, again, both Red Bull and Mercedes’s largest single source of income was prize money).

      Whilst you might try to dismiss the influence of prize money, when prize money is the main source of income for all teams and makes up such a significant portion of the budgets of the teams, large differences in prize money payments are a significant reason behind why those larger teams can spend so much more.

  20. Teams at the bottom of the current year’s championship should get extra testing and development time. If they do a good job with it, the flow of permitted parts – and payments for them will become two-way.

  21. They’re bringing in a budget cap – why do they need to bring in more restrictions and silly rules to penalise the top teams.

    Can FOM stop with the stupid rules, we have a budget cap now, albeit years overdue, so things will start to level out as intended.

  22. I voted slightly agree for the reason that it should only be a temporary fix for the next couple of seasons. Once the cost cap really starts to take effect remove the punishment for being fast.
    Also the restrictions on development should be lifted or at least reduce substantially to allow teams to develop and innovate to improve the cars. F1 is not just a race around given circuits but a competition about ideas and engineering excellence.

  23. MotoGP implemented something similar a couple of years ago. They allowed new engine manufacturers and those that were lagging behind Honda and Yamaha (Ducati, Aprilia) to do more testing and to introduce multiple engine updates during a season, while Honda and Yamaha only were allowed to develop their engines in between seasons.
    Once the manufacturer had caught up, they would loose their privileges. But by that point, not only had Ducati caught up, but they had the most powerful engine in the field and thus held a competitive advantage over their rivals. Their only weak point was their chassis. If they had a competitive chassis, they would’ve won the championship for sure.

    And that’s exactly the problem with such ‘performance-handicap’-rules. It can lead to an artificial mix-up in relative performance between teams, because you handicap certain teams. That’s not fair!

    IMO it’s fine for new entrants, because nobody wants to see teams at the back of the field, 5+ seconds off the pace and not having a fair chance to catch up. These teams should have some privileges to be able to catch up to the midfield.

  24. Strongly disagree. The article says it all already for me.

    Sort the distribution of funds out. Reduce the overall levels of spending to something a little closer to sensible. Then encourage as much development as possible on as much of the car as possible within that financial framework. And may the best team win.

  25. At the moment it can take 3 years or so to turn around the development of 1 bad car given the restrictions. To be a front runner again I’d argue impossible without large rule changes). I don’t see any issue in teams outside the top 5 been given 25% extra wind tunnel hours to try and allow them to claw some performance back. It wouldn’t guarantee a performance improvement but it does give them the ability to have more chance to try and get some extra performance.

    F1 used to do a lot of things differently but times move on and the sport needs to consider if the current tiered system of top 3, midfield and back markers is what they want for the future.

  26. Just about every professional sport that I know of has a system that provides a pathway for the bottom teams to eventually become challengers for the title…except F1. For example in the NFL, the bottom teams get the first draft pics which allows them to get better players either through drafting the best college players or by trading draft picks for better existing players. F1 basically rewards success with a pathway to further success while keeping back marker teams forever in the back and no way to move up. I once read a report that stated it cost an estimated £1 million of aero development to gain .1 sec on track. Based on the current rewards system in F1, there is no way for a Haas, or even team that used to be champions, Williams, to ever really challenge the ‘Big Three’. They simply do not have the money. I don’t think that aero penalties should be applied to the top teams (ie. ‘success ballast’), but perhaps limiting the amount of aero development they can do during a season in a token system similar to the engine token system of a couple of seasons ago, while allowing back markers unlimited aero development might help. Bear in mind that even with ‘unlimited’ aero development, smaller teams will still be budget limited as to how much they can do.
    F1 fans are a fickle bunch demanding closer racing and more passing, but decrying any attempt to provide that by saying it damages the ‘purity’ of the sport. The bottom line is, if you don’t provide some way for back marker teams to succeed beyond ‘best of the rest’ status, then there is no real way for smaller teams to ever compete for wins and no real incentive for new teams to enter the sport. No team ever wants to get into a professional sport knowing beforehand that they can never finish better than 4th place.

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