A “tickle” or a “big step”? Teams divided over impact of 2021 downforce changes

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 teams have sharply differing views over the impact aerodynamic changes for next season will have on their cars.

A series of measures have been agreed for the 2021 F1 season to reduce how much downforce cars generate. The new technical restrictions will be introduced in response to the increased loads F1 tyres are subjected to.

F1 is using the same specification tyres this year which were raced in 2019, and will continue to do so again in 2021. The sport is anxious to avoid a repeat of the punctures seen at Silverstone this year, which tyre supplier Pirelli blamed on the high cornering forces generated by modern F1 cars.

A packages of changes was initially agreed in April. However following the tyre failures seen at the British Grand Prix in August, further alterations to the cars were agreed with the goal of reducing downforce by 10%.

Teams have given very different assessments of the effect the changes are likely to have. Racing Point technical director Andrew Green is among those who expect car performance will be significantly reduced.

“For us it’s another big step,” he said. “Not as big as the first one, but still going in, as far as we’re concerned, the wrong direction. It’s a hole we’re going to have to dig ourselves out of over the next few months.”

Green dismissed the possibility teams will be able to replicate 2020 downforce levels next year and said the FIA could be satisfied the rule change will do its job.

“That’s the intention of the regulations, to trim the downforce and make sure we don’t have any more downforce than we have this year. I’m pretty confident that’s going to be the case. There’s no way that we’re going to get back to the levels of downforce that we’ve got this year.

“So I think in that respect the FIA can tick that box – that’s done. It’s up now to us to try and develop as much as we can out of it.”

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However Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes more could have been done to limit the team’s potential to add more downforce to their cars.

“I think it’s a bit of a tickle,” he said of the 2021 rules change. “I think the teams will get back all the downforce that it perhaps takes off.

“Maybe more could have been done because the rate of progress in Formula 1 is such that if there are concerns about the load of the tyre then maybe more should have been locked out.

“But of course, whenever you change something, it does introduce costs because whatever you change creates differences. So it’s finding that balance.”

Green pointed out teams will have to balance developing their 2021 cars with the need to focus on the heavily revised technical regulations coming for 2022. This will also coincide with new aerodynamic testing restrictions.

“If we had more time and we weren’t looking towards 2022 I’m pretty sure we could get back to where we are now,” said Green. “But lots of other things are in the mix as well.

“Not only have we got a 2022 car to to think about but, come the beginning of January, the aerodynamic testing restrictions change again, with a big reduction in aerodynamic development. So we know that’s going to hamper us as well.

“[With] all those together we will be doing a very good job if we get to anywhere near where we are now.”

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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...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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25 comments on “A “tickle” or a “big step”? Teams divided over impact of 2021 downforce changes”

  1. It’s only 10% after all. I guess similar (lap times) to 2018 or 2019, depending on the track.

    1. It’s only 10% after all.

      10% is actually quite a bit I think, @jerejj.
      Even in slower corners with only 1G of downforce it would reduce the pressure between tyres and track by 5% and (simplistically) the cornering speed by the same 5%.
      In faster corners with 2-3G of downforce it would be an even bigger reduction in cornering speed.

      Of course teams will find ways to recoup part of the lost (floor) downforce in other ways (e.g. wings), but that will reduce the straight line speeds (cp).

      1. It really depends on the track. If it is a track that uses maximum downforce then it is a 10% reduction, maybe. But on a track that uses less than maximum downforce the effect might be near zero if adding downforce by other means can cancel out the loss elsewhere without significant drag penalty. After all it is all about adding as much downforce as possible until the drag starts cancelling any potential lap time benefit. Or maxing out the downforce more often than not. The lower the downforce level maximum the more it is used.

        Iirc in 2016 the teams used max downforce setup everywhere. Which in theory I think is a great thing as it allows smaller teams to focus on single aero package that can be used everywhere with little changes. But looking at the 2021 numbers 10% recution is not that much. Of course it is a lot of downforce in absolute numbers as these cars have more downforce than ever before. So 10% of the biggest number is still big cut but at the same time what you have left is 90% of the biggest number ever.

        Sadly the financial practicalities limit a lot what can be done. What is scary is that they are still talking about 2021 season aero rules… cutting it pretty close…

    2. 10% of absolute downforce might mean very very little, it may not contribute to much of a time loss.

  2. These constant changes when stable regs is what closes the field up. Very disappointing that no one could foresee tyres would be on the limit, and counter it earlier.

    1. Well, that is why Pirelli had those rejected tyres developed last year right @balue, but the teams didn’t want them then. Maybe in the final accounting that was a bit penny-wise,pound foolish.

      Also interesting that for a big budget Red Bull, they feel it’s only a small extra effort, while Racing Point, ie. midfield with less budget, sees need to prioritize. Probably because at the moment they just have a lot less staff and resources to do split.

      1. It’s not about cost at all – it’s about knowledge and data.
        They’d have spent squillions on new floors and wings anyway, so it makes no difference whether the rules change or not.

        1. But the new part would be within their understanding and following a concept, whereas with new rules some will struggle to get on top of it.

          Like Renault now having found a sweet spot with their car, could just produce and evolution of it for next year and build on what’s working, but now they could easily get lost again.

        2. Apart from what @balue said, which I agree with, how do you think that knowledge and data compare between a Mercedes, Red Bull and Racing Point, or Haas S?

          Don’t you agree that their budget has at least a little bit to do with how much hey have been able to gather data, and especially how well they are able to distill knowledge from that data?

          Mercedes certainly seem data driven, and with enough staff and budget to have built up a large amount of it that might well have helped them to gather lot of knowledge to cope with much more changes than others can.

      2. @bosyber Indeed. Ironic that avoiding the new rubber was not to lose gains and flounder trying to understand them, and then practically have the same happening with new aero regs because they didn’t.

        1. @balue By all accounts the tires were terrible though, and they just couldn’t bring themselves to going ahead with them, and I don’t see why this 10% floor change that will result in only about a 5% reduction in downforce due to their constant development, will see them ‘floundering.’ They’ll make the regulated changes to their floors, they’ll ply their trade to haul some of the downforce loss back elsewhere, and the bottom line will be that they will have not added to the loads put on the tires from this year to next.

          1. @robbie It’s already been called a significant reduction in car performance and a ‘hole they have to dig themselves out of” by a technical director. This comes on top of a big reduction in aerodynamic development to hamper them further. Green says outright they will be doing a very good job if they get to anywhere near where they are now. Sounds like a massive undertaking, and could easily upset their direction and previous good work is my guess, when we know how sensitive these cars are to just the smallest alteration, and how easy it is to get lost when working on a specific area.

          2. @balue The very title of this article states that views differ between ‘tickle’ (Horner) and ‘big step’ (Green) wrt the changes for next year. You have chosen to use the more pessimistic opinion, and making it sound like something way bigger than it is, and something dire at that. You are overplaying this. These changes are necessary as agreed by the teams. Note too that RP, who lately seem to be more interested in copying than designing their own, are ‘concerned’ perhaps as they are lacking in the design area, whereas Horner thinks they could have gone further with the changes to ensure they don’t haul too much back.

            Anyway, you seem to be pitying Green when he predicts it will be hard for them to get back to where they are, and yet that is the very point. F1 is hoping they (all the teams) don’t get back to where they are, as they are trying to reduce the load on the tires. The main thing is that left alone with no floor changes the teams would have likely at least 10% more downforce than this year and that would be disastrous for the tires for next year.

            Methinks you and Green are making a mountain out of a relative molehill here. They’ll all sort it out and be fine for next year, the last year of these terrible-for-racing cars on their terrible-for-racing tires.

          3. @robbie No you are making a meal out of this. My point was that reg changes causes field spread that reduces racing which is of course bad. The article confirms it. Some teams will have no problem with this, but others who are already balancing on a knife edge will drop back again. But then you know this well. Stable regs closes the field up and it’s a shame with this disturbance. Don’t know what’s to make an argument about.

          4. @balue Well what is your suggestion then? The teams have agreed. What is it you know that F1 and the teams don’t? Of course stability helps. But even under stable regs the teams always find downforce, and if they end up with more downforce than this year there’s going to be more problems with the tires then they already have. How will it help the racing if they have so much downforce compared to this year that the tires constantly fail?

            You don’t seem to get that this is a necessary change, not one made just because Liberty likes to see teams have to spend money and adapt to instability. Again, the teams have agreed this is needed, but you seem to think they’re wrong and stability and exploding tires would be better. What is it you would suggest or is it that you just want to complain? And don’t say stability in the regs because we’ve been told that will result in big problems with too heavy loads on the tires next year. You’re worried that some are on some alleged knife edge and might fall back? Isn’t it a competition? Isn’t it about them doing the work and preventing that from happening? I mean, if one team can call it a tickle, then surely it can’t be all the way towards disaster at the other end of the spectrum for even the worst teams. For all we know at this point in time some teams might find themselves with a better balanced car than they currently have. That’s going to be up to them to work their magic with the agreed upon changes. You’ve already decided towards the negative that some teams will lose what they just gained, and that’s just a pure speculation that suits your argument. There’s just as good a chance some will improve, or they’ll all stay relatively close to the order they’re in now. The changes are the same for everyone.

          5. @robbie Jeez, what’s with the double speak? You are the one who just want to complain and is making a meal of this. I made everything clear straight away in a short paragraph. Seems you just go on for the sake of argument and don’t even read other’s points.

            I said it’s a shame with the reg change, and something they could have foreseen. End of story. You can have your rants but I’m not going further.

          6. How ridiculous is this, once you know Balue and Robbie are duplicate accounts of the same person! Who is also Oconomo, David Bondo and god knows how many others. Why do you let it go on @keithcollantine?

          7. @balue Well you also ranted about it being a ‘massive undertaking’ that might set some teams back, with no room for anything else on the positive side, so no you didn’t just call it a shame, you were complaining and ranting too.

  3. So that’s Andrew Green versus Christian (not Adrian). What do the other teams think? Jus wonderin!

  4. if there are concerns about the load of the tyre then maybe

    ……… They should get the tire supplier to make better tires, You know as was the case throughout F1’s history until the Pirelli comedy tire era.

    This post 2011 Pirelli tire era is the only time in F1’s history that the sport has had to introduce rules to cater to the deficiencies of the tires rather than the tire supplier having to simply make a better product.

    Even in the worst case scenario that was the 2005 USGP it was Michelin who had to change its tires to suit the forces of the IMS banking/track surface for 2006 rather than the FIA changing the cars to limit stresses put through the tires.

    My how far F1, The once great pinnacle of the sport has fallen in this comedy, budget, gimmick show era.

    1. Jonathan Outterbridge
      21st October 2020, 15:15

      It’s not a gimmick show. They just probably don’t wanna pay for a new tire contract and put in the work to make better tires. Pirelli is the real failure here. Michelin and Goodyear tires in other motorsports hold up to 1500lbs of downforce weekly.

      1. Jonathan Outterbridge, asides from the fact that you’re not indicating the speed range, if it is meant to be at fairly high speed (say, 150-200mph), saying that they could take 1500lb would not be a particularly impressive achievement – even midfield to backmarker F1 cars quite a few years ago could fairly comfortably pass that threshold.

    2. @roger-ayles While I do hear you and share your frustration with the tires, let’s not forget there is a new chapter around the corner, and Liberty/Brawn are still dealing with the remnants of the BE era and it’s cars.

      I expect that the new 18” rim low profile tires will be vastly different just because for one reason they will have to be by physics alone. I doubt they can change the shape of these tires so much and still be using the same chemistry for the actual composition of the rubber. Further to that, I expect Brawn will have given Pirelli a far different mandate than the one they had from the BE days for the BE cars that needed joke tires and drs to try to add variety to the order of cars not meant to race closely but meant to be processional.

      Let’s give Liberty and Brawn their real chance to show their stuff which will only begin in earnest when their cars, not BE’s, are on the track on vastly different tires. You don’t want gimmicks? Then it should suit you that there shouldn’t be any need for joke tires, drs, nor reverse grid quali races. The cars and drivers themselves are going to be putting on a far better show just naturally, tires and cars unbothered and unhindered in what will be a reduced amount of dirty air.

  5. Elephant in the room?
    TYRES.
    Simply put. Tyres are not up to the job.
    F1 should not be about tyres.

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