Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Sochi Autodrom, 2020

F1’s new aero handicap rules mean Ferrari’s dire season will help them in 2022

2020 F1 season

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After the first 10 races of the 2020 F1 season, with seven to go, Ferrari lie sixth in the championship. If they finish there, it will be their worst result for 40 years.

Not since their grim 1980 campaign, when reigning champion Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve scraped just eight points between them to finish 10th in the championship, have Ferrari looked like finishing a season as badly as this.

Their prospects of getting back into the top five don’t look great. They are 25 points behind fifth place. Over the last four races Renault and Racing Point have out-scored them every time, while McLaren have done so all but once.

Ferrari are potentially more likely to end the year seventh. They are 15 points ahead of AlphaTauri, and over the last four races Ferrari only out-scored their fellow Italian team in the Russian Grand Prix. And their rivals reckoned that was merely thanks to the Q3 tyre rule.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2020
Mercedes will likely face tightest development restrictions
That rule is an example of a regulation designed to help those further down the pecking order. The 10 drivers in the bottom half of the field get to start the race on new tyres; the top qualifiers must use old rubber.

The same philosophy is behind F1’s new ‘aero handicap’ rules which will come into force next year. In 2021, the amount of aerodynamic development work teams will be allowed to do will be based on their finishing positions in the 2020 constructors’ championship.

Therefore if runaway leaders Mercedes win the title again, they will be allowed to conduct less aerodynamic development than any of the other teams. Assuming Williams bring up the rear again, they will get the most.

If Ferrari remain sixth, their development allocation will be 13.8% more than the champions. If they slip to seventh, that will rise to 16.6%. In real terms this means more CFD runs and more hours in the wind tunnel to hone their design for the following season.

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This is especially crucial as the development work teams do next year will be for the all-new technical regulations which are due to be introduced in 2022. They represent the biggest opportunity yet for Mercedes’ rivals to close the gap to the team which has dominated F1 since 2014.

Ferrari may find 2021 is little better than this year
Ferrari’s poor performance this year therefore stands to hand them an advantage in their development programme for that new rules package. And it may not stop there.

The scuderia could stand to benefit further when it comes to designing their 2023 car, the second under the new technical regulations. The aero handicap will change in the second season, tipping the balance even further in favour of the teams who finish lower down in the championship.

If Mercedes win the 2021 championship and Ferrari finish sixth, Ferrari will get to do 35.7% more aerodynamic development in 2022. It’s obviously very early to be making that kind of prediction, but as next year’s cars will be closely based on current chassis due to new cost-saving rules, it’s not an unrealistic scenario.

The current season may be painful for Ferrari, but the opportunity to ‘fail upward’ when the new rules come must be some consolation. But surely the regulations were intended to benefit teams other than the most generously recompensed outfit of recent seasons.

Teams’ aerodynamic development limits based on current championship positions

In 2021 each team will be given a different limit on how much aerodynamic development they can conduct based on where they finish in this year’s constructors’ championship. The fifth-place team will get 100% of the reference total; those who finish ahead will get less, those who finish behind will get more.

Here’s what the teams can expect to get based on their current championship positions:

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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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59 comments on “F1’s new aero handicap rules mean Ferrari’s dire season will help them in 2022”

  1. Well, I guess they need it too, even with their big budget. While this still is a handicap system, off-track I can live with that, certainly if it turns out to really make racing closer and more likely, without immediately putting Merc 5th and Williams 6th or something.

    1. The problem @bosyber is that with handicapping, when Ferrari (or whoever) design the best car, it doesn’t mean they’ve been the best at designing an F1 car.

      So the whole point of the competition goes down the pan. Handicapping is a cheap trick that undermines everything. If the racing doesn’t tell us who’s doing it better, it doesn’t make any difference how ‘close’ it is, because it doesn’t mean anything.

      1. Yeah I know @zann, but let’s face it, Ferrari haven’t had any handicaps and they couldn’t, only for a brief while in the last ten years have they looked like beating the top – while they were running a PU that now seems to have been sketchy, and has been curtailed now.

        As long as it is clear ahead of time, and isn’t too strongly biased , this system means that throwing money and going all in on being better, while others maybe won’t/can’t, will only only help to some extent. And the stakes are clear well ahead of time. It does avoid the leaders throwing everything and the kitchen sink into simulation to stay ahead though (while struggles might do more of that).

        To me, if a team is better at development, they are still going to be better, even if they are pegged back a bit. One might even argue: if you are very good at figuring out which ideas have potential early on (RP having a bit of a history with that, to me for example), then the limit on simulation time is less of an issue for you, and winning despite it might even give your team more pride and experience in doing it right.

        This year, it might have made Red Bull a bit closer to chasing Mercedes, but they would still be having those issues they only found during testing and the races, because they were not things they saw in the simulations, and Merc still would have been strong, but maybe less far ahead. And Ferrari finishing 2nd last year, would mean they were deeper into a hole for this year than they are (which seems fair as they dug it themselves).

        So, sure, more simulations and such helps when you are in a bit of a mess. So let’s hope it brings Ferrari solidly in the head of the midfield (and Williams well into the fold again). But there’s no reason to think they will be the sudden leaders (unless they already were heading there from 2022), and Mercedes, Red Bull, will already have assessed the impact on them since the rules were discussed last year and remain the favourites.

        1. Well yes @bosyber we can sketch out how it will bring the teams closer together, and say it won’t make too huge a difference, but it’s the thin end of the wedge. Already in 2023 6th place will have 35.7% more aero time. If we think of a year’s development giving 1s, that’s 3.3 tenths!

          And it’s got the principle into F1. Now it’s down this slippery slope, where ‘close racing’ is the objective and if it has to be faked then they’ll fake it. Cars can be equal without representing equal awesomeness.

          1. I feel your argument @zann, but your calculation assumes all of that 1s is in the simulator, rather than with the best ideas that are then worked out to fit in with the rest of the car to achieve the fastest result on most tracks – ie. it’s not just time, but also having the team to use it.

            I think, see my post above, that ignores a large part of what a makes a successful team good. I would say budget, among others, helps get the best people for that, but look at Ferrari, it’s not everything all the time.

          2. Yes okay @bosyber you caught me exaggerating, just a bit :) But the whole point of the handicap is to make a difference, and now they’ve introduced handicapping into F1. So if this doesn’t make enough of a difference, what’ll happen next?

            The concept is basically to defeat excellence.

          3. No,I see the initial purpose as being to tamper built up budget related inequalities in bought in excellence @zann , so it doing a bit, but not too radical is then just fine. Second, it limits excellence to make resting on those laurels harder, so multi year dominance will be harder. But not impossible,just even more impressive.

            Also means I want to see it reduced over the coming years Does it change the sport? Sure, but in order to profit teams stil need to have exceptional people that know what they want to do, so I think I can live with it.

          4. If it was temporary @bosyber I’d be okay with it too. And yes if it was based on compensating for Bernie’s past prize money biases that’d be different as well. And yes I can live with it, since I have to, but they do have people who read these forums so I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s a step in a very, very bad direction!!

      2. @zann
        Let’s not forget that up to and including this year, Mercedes’ design and development resources have exceeded almost every other team on the grid…

        There has always been a handicap in F1 – only now it will swing back in the other direction.

        1. Well, wrt. Ferrari versus Mercedes S that made me laugh.

          But, in general, yeah, it is a way to limit built up advantage of larger budgets that the top has over the rest of the field (which implies it might need to be reduced in the future, if it works well).

        2. Daimler hardly spend anything on F1 @S, they earned their budget with performance. They did a great deal with Bernie and they get a lot of sponsorship. They make great decisions, from how big to make their turbo, to which people to employ, building a top windtunnel that hardly ever seems to throw correlation problems and can harvest a huge amount of data per hour, drivers who are exposure magnets and letting them be free and joining in even, DAS, the new rear wishbones…. it goes on and on. The whole culture. It’s how to do F1.

          Trying to fiddle things, to make other teams catch up without being as good, makes F1 races meaningless. The winner may be doing it best, or not.

          1. @zann
            They spent huge amounts of money – however, they’ve since largely been recompensed through increased sponsorship, prize and commercial payments and income through engines and parts supply contracts.
            Makes the bottom line look a lot better when the income goes up as a result of the on-track success.

            Not doing much for them with road car sales though…

      3. Pedro Andrade
        6th October 2020, 9:52

        How do you know that Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari have been the best at designing cars in the hybrid era? They simply have been the ones with the bigger budgets, hard to judge between teams because the playing field is not level in the first place. The handicap already exists, and it’s not in terms of development time, it’s resources – facilities, number of personnel, ability to hire the better engineers, the better drivers, attract more sponsors… Meritocracy is not as simple a concept as people usually make it out to be.

        1. The budgets are part of the competition Pedro. Sponsors, boardrooms, marketing. And even so there’s the budget cap now and also the redistribution.

      4. @zann How is that much different to teams with bigger budgets having an advantage in infrastructure when it comes to designing?

        1. Sponsorship is part of the competition @mashiat, is how I see it. Mercedes have been going about their $5.5 billion worth of exposure, that’s the potential every team has with F1. Any team can work their way up, over a number of seasons, so that the prize money plus sponsorship covers even £300m of budget. And now the prize money is an equal ladder they can all climb, and there’s a budget cap too.

          Of course they have to do it well. If they do it badly, it never works and after throwing a lot of money at it they have to give it up and sell. Red Bull for example do it really well, have their Virtual Test Track and everything, apart from one huge weakness which is sniping at their engine supplier and rivals… relationships are one of the many, many facets of F1 that actually reflect the real world, and earning money is too.

          1. @zann
            Any team can build up to a budget of $300m?
            Well, why haven’t they all just done that then?

            Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that it’s simply not possible for everyone – and those with factory backing do actually have somewhat of a head start in that area..?

          2. The other teams haven’t been doing it as well @S. It’s supposedly a meritocracy, if anyone’s naive enough to believe Ross Rascassegate Brawn. That means a team that does it better wins the competition. This is quite basic!

            As for factory backing, F1 is not supposed to be cheap. It’s not supposed to be ordinary or easy it’s supposed to be incredible. That’s why Niki Lauda went to the Daimler board in 2012 to get a proper budget. But as it is anyone can buy the most amazing engine that’s exactly the same as the factory ones, for a super bargain €12m. Also atm they can buy the rest of the drivetrain, the suspension, cooling and everything else not directly aero. Then they have to make the car of course, and if they don’t make such a good one, they don’t win with it, owing to it being a competition to see who can do it best.

  2. It is already the case that teams further down the pecking order have more to gain from developing their cars, because of diminishing returns for those at the front.

    Indeed, restriction on development (particularly around power units) is one of the major factors that has helped preserve Mercedes’ advantage for so many years.

    So if the aim of these rules is to help close up the field, I suspect it will probably have the opposite effect.

    1. @red-andy

      It is already the case that teams further down the pecking order have more to gain from developing their cars, because of diminishing returns for those at the front.

      I buy the theory, but it doesn’t seem to have been the case for Mercedes’ power unit in the seventh year of the current regulations.

      1. Have to agree with @keithcollantine there @red-andy, diminishing returns haven’t really been in evidence too much. One might argue in the 2016-2019 seasons it seemed like that, but then Mercedes PU people dug deeper and found new returns. And on the aero front, look at how far Red Bull and Mercedes are ahead (when they don’t mess up), that does not look like there is much diminishing of their lead.

        Might even be said the relatively strong top of the midfield is because those teams fixed their own issues that kept them back, independently of the top. Guess what, with this system, they would have relatively more opportunity to do that.

        But a full second isn’t found just by throwing stuff into the simulator I would think, otherwise Williams would be a lot closer by now.

      2. @red-andy / @keithcollantine – for me that’s been the thing that’s impressed the most.

        Mercedes extracted the most out of the regs at the start of the Hybrid era, I naturally expected their improvement curve to be at less of a gradient as others caught up and by the end the the ‘era’ we’d have much closer performances between teams like we saw in other recent definable periods.

        The law of diminishing returns has certainly closed up the gaps and the midfield is incredibly close. However, the fact that Mercedes have managed to consistently develop improvements into their car (including complex engineering like DAS) has shown how spectacular they’ve been as a team.

        It’s not all down to just having a fast power unit either, Mercedes powered cars have bookended the championship for a the last few years, having a team dominating at the front might not make for great racing, but it’s impressive that they’ve constantly pushed and stayed ahead of the curve in a demonstration of engineering masterclass.

  3. My guess is Mercedes is well advanced with the design of its 2022 car, while Ferrari will be caught asleep as usual. So at the end of the day Mercedes will finish with more hours of aero development anyway.

    1. Well, lets not forget the nr of ex Ferrari co workers now in key regulatory positions. They’ll do fine. Blatteresque victories coming up

  4. A sad state of affairs: is this what F1 has become? I’d rather watch the NBA if I want to see the worst teams get the best draft picks.

    1. Ferrari’s Berlusconesk infiltration throughout all the policy layers and positions will pay off for them. That was their intention (and DNA) all along. Todt, Todt son, Domenicali, Brawn and even Massa somewhere down the line with Carting Committee. Dont worry about these guys..they’ll be fine

    2. Yeah, I know, I’d rather keep watching races like we have now, with foregone conclusions about how gets pole and who wins the race, praying to whichever diety is available that we get some shenanigans so the race can at least be somewhat interesting, while knowing ultimately, one team and driver will in the championship.

      But at least we have integrity. I suppose.

      1. Article is focusing on Mercedes vs Ferrari but there are annoying side effects with this rule as a team that has designed a poorer car performance-wise but has outperformed its capability will have less development time than a team that designed a great car but made poorer performance (aka McLaren vs RacingPoint).

        If we stretch the system to the extreme, and given the attractiveness to win a WCC, could a team like Aston Martin finish last few years in a row in a race for development to bid on crushing the competition on the fourth year? They have good track record to extract performance with limited budget (even if we discard the copying saga), probably don’t have a proper chance to a championship in normal conditions. There is so much to gain compare to the loses. History won’t remember a team finishing 6th, 3rd and 5th but will for a team finishing last, last, win.

        That’s one of the reason I don’t like handicap system, while the intent might be for more balanced competition, it is also a big incentive to take advantage of the system. We have heard that before with performance balance in WEC, and now we will hear it in F1.

        1. The gap between 4th and 10th is only 15% of windtunnel time, that’s hardly worth losing tens of millions of dollars over two years, just so you can have one year at the front of the midfield. Similarly I find it unlikely a top 3 team is gonna give up on podiums for two years so they can perhaps maybe win in the third year and then go back to negative windtunnel percentage while the team that won 2 years, lost the third to you, catches right back up the next year.

          1. @aiii it might be 15% for 2021, but from 2022 onwards the number of hours the 4th placed team gets will be cut by 12.5% (from 97.5% to 85%) whilst the 10th placed team gets 2.5% more (from 112.5% to 115%).

            That would then create a 30% difference between 4th place and 10th place, as the difference between each WCC place is increased from 2.5% to 5% – that said, I do agree it’s unlikely that there will be many teams wanting to take such drastic measures.

    3. One could argue that a similar scheme was successfully implemented in MotoGP. With the absence of Marc Marquez this year due to injury, the title was thrown wide open and we’ve seen teams at the front that a few years ago wouldn’t even get a sniff of the podium.
      That being said, I still question why rules like this were implemented when the rule changes for 2022 are supposed to fix all of F1’s ills.

  5. Always wondered how things like wind tunnel times are restricted – how is it policed?

  6. Call me cynical but don’t you think Ferrari are well aware of this rule? Even Alfa Romeo are taking them on and winning in some cases. Maybe Ferrari just think they need to plan much further ahead to beat Mercedes?

    1. Interesting point. Could well be something to it IMO. It would explain their almost comical performance. It’s not like their engine ‘handicap’ accounts for all that, and it’s not the first time an F1 team abandons a season to focus on the future.

  7. But surely the regulations were intended to benefit teams other than the most generously recompensed outfit of recent seasons.

    That is a bit hard to swallow.

  8. Hold on. This is Ferrari we are talking about. Doesn’t matter if they get 20% extra development time or 200%. Essere Ferrari will make sure that they mess it up in some way and end up even worse.

    1. Indeed @knightameer, that’s my feeling too.

  9. How do you even quantify “aero development” as percentage? Is it strictly wind tunnel time? CFD time at computers? Clever people doodling on paper?

    Seems like a very difficult thing to police, frankly…

    1. @joeypropane it is usually defined in the regulations in terms of hours that can be dedicated to particular activities, particularly wind tunnel and CFD modelling work.

  10. Ok I’ll say it. This will just give them more time to stuff it up.

  11. There are worse things that could happen for F1 than Ferrari championship win.

  12. Having more time in the tunnel or on the computer is no guarantee of success, nor is more money, as Ferrari are so clearly demonstrating this year.

    Its one thing to have more time, more opportunity, it is quite another to use it wisely and well.

  13. Ferrari aerodynamics isn’t the problem , it’s their rule breaking power units. If they can change their philosophy on how you produce a legal engine, they’ll have even more of an advantage when it comes to development.

    It’s teams like Williams who really needs this developmental assistance.

    1. Well, the title is misleading for sure! The rule is not made to help Ferrari, their weakest point at the moment is not the aero.

  14. Whilst this rule change might allow the slower teams to catch up it will also hold back innovations.

    The forward looking teams can’t now afford to spend time on developments like DAS, instead they’ll use the time they’re allocated for more mundane design explorations.

    Rule changes like this panders towards mediocrity.

    1. Whilst i understand the proposed rule change will mean a disparity in the time allocated for aerodynamic testing, will this mean the leaders will have less [ eg 50%] time than they currently have, or that the lamers will have more [eg 130%] time than they currently have allocated?

  15. 2022. Just when Max joins them….

  16. If I were Ferrari, I’d be holding the cars back for the rest of this season to finish as far down the pecking order as possible to gain as much aero time as possible next year. Whether they are 7th or dead last this year, it doesn’t really matter to them, so I’d take the additional aero time.

    1. It wont make a blind bit of difference to their development of a legal power unit.

  17. The rule is for the entire grid… so why make it look like it’s tailor-made for Ferrari?!?! Why not say…. more possible in reality…. that it was made to stop Mercedes and another team from dominating so much and for so long?!

  18. The authoritarians in charge are in position by politics not by intelligence which is why this scheme seems so reasonable.
    In reality Mercedes designers obviously know what they are doing and the others do not. You could give the other teams’ engineers unlimited design time but since they are clueless it is not going to produce a faster car.

  19. Wind tunnel time is not as important as track time. Many times their tunnel results have failed to correlate to the actual car performance. The secret track test that Merc did at the start of these regulations is really the only way of getting ahead in these regulations.

    1. I really doubt Mercedes as 7 times world champions would do anything to compromise their already sizeable advantage by doing *anything* without FIA approval. Even their DAS development and testing was known to the FIA before it was later over-ruled..

      BTW I’m a bit surprised we’ve not seen more in car shots of the DAS in action

  20. So like reverse grids then ! Sits back and opens popcorn

  21. Mark in Florida
    6th October 2020, 16:25

    Wind tunnel time won’t help Ferrari if they aren’t on the right development track to begin with. They have managed to somehow screw up every line of development in the past. What’s going to change now? More time and handicapping smart teams can’t make you a winner you have to have smart capable people of your own. Ferrari needs a mindset change and a change of team members to get out of the wasteland that they are in. Once again it seems as though F1 is trying to be more like Indy Car competition wise without looking like they are. Just put a cap on maximum output on the engines and deployment if you want to make the competition more equal and pare back the down force. Then give them tires they can actually race on. Then you would see some competition. The drivers would come to the front and managers not so much.

  22. F1 punishing engineering success. Acceptable gimmick?

  23. I think the point everyone is missing is, what difference does say 10% more development time make to people who couldn’t get it right the first time?
    The skills of the engineers make more difference then time allowed.

  24. These headers! Full blown autosport.

  25. The fact that I still don’t completely understand, is how on earth Ferrari got worse from one year to another.

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