Mercedes W12, 2021

Copying rival F1 teams’ innovations ‘takes just two days’

2021 F1 season

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Formula 1 teams are being especially secretive about their new designs for 2021 because the opportunities for innovation are so limited this year.

As a cost-saving measure, teams have been assigned a maximum of two development ‘tokens’ which define how far they can update their 2020 designs. On top of that, new aerodynamic restrictions have been imposed to reduce downforce.

Alpine technical director Pat Fry said teams are particularly sensitive about these areas of their cars.

“The combination of the floor area that people are trying to hide, the change in the brake duct shape and the change of the diffuser fences is certainly a pretty substantial reduction in downforce,” he explained.

Red Bull RB16B, 2021
Red Bull only issued renderings of their new car…
“I think that area will be one of the main areas of development. We’ve certainly got a programme all lined up. That, to be honest, through a lot of the teams I’ve been at, that area is one of the things where you can never model the deflected tyre shape quite correctly in the wind tunnel anyway.”

Teams will delay running the final versions of these parts as long as they can, said Fry.

“I expect you’ll see everyone with a myriad of test items turning up in Bahrain and for the first few races, really. I think we haven’t just got one solution, we’ve got a myriad of things to test, really, just to get on top of it.”

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The downforce loss caused by the regulations changes has been “significant”, according to Fry. “We certainly haven’t recovered all of it yet but it’s still a work in progress, really.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Silverstone, 2021
…while Alpine’s publicity shots gave away little about the A521
“When we get to the first test it’ll become really interesting when we actually see how well things are correlating to wind tunnel and CFD as well as the actual absolute numbers that we get out the car.”

Several front-running teams have avoided showing key areas of their new cars when they were launched. Mercedes hid areas of their W12 when it was presented last week. Red Bull and Alpine showed renderings of their cars which omitted key details and issued limited images of their cars in action – in Red Bull’s case, no photographs of the RB16B were distributed after its first run.

“The secrecy that people are showing at the moment [is] the area around the side of the floor, in front of the tyre, the brake ducts, how people reacted to all that area,” Fry explained. “I think it’s the things that people will be trying to keep their powder dry on.”

F1 teams can inspect and duplicate rivals’ innovations extremely quickly, Fry explained.

“In reality, I could see something on someone’s car and if it’s a different fence in that area or a different shape of floor in that area, I could be testing that in the [wind] tunnel in two days and have it on the car in a week.

“So a large rule change has happened – OK, a very limited part of the car – but it would be quite easy to react and see if someone has got something that’s working better than everyone else.

“It’s just the nature of Formula 1, isn’t it? We all think we’re clever and we all try and hide what we’re doing and then you find out how quick you are come the Bahrain race.”

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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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22 comments on “Copying rival F1 teams’ innovations ‘takes just two days’”

  1. He says “really” a lot doesn’t he? Might be reading too much into this but I tend to feel people who use too many filler words aren’t confident about what they are saying or that they know what they are talking about..

    1. Really?

      1. For sure

    2. Myriad.

      1. He misused myriad, myriad times

  2. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    10th March 2021, 9:02

    So on the one hand the idea is that ‘most of the 2020-car can be carried over’, but on the other hand there was ‘a large rule change’ involving the diffuser, break ducks and the floor. Meaning they’ll have to generate the lost downforce some other way (as Fry says) meaning changes to other parts.

    Sounds a lot like that time they ‘only’changed the front-wing rules and Red Bull had to change most of their car because Newey works from front to back. Could mix things up in the top very nicely after all!

    1. It will not

    2. Do the “break ducks” quack if the car is going too fast

      Just a joke. Autocorrection has much to answer for, as I know well.

      1. Witan, lol, beat me to it. I wonder what the ‘bill’ is for those ducks.

    3. Engineers seem to have the same kind of short term memory problem, because I recall a lot of “this is the biggest rule change in decades” sort of comments from the past few years, even from engineers who worked in 2009 or 2014, for seemingly small rule changes.

  3. Whilst I don’t doubt the claim that 2 days is enough time to copy a concept, however it seems that this is only a small part of the battle.

    The challenge surely lies in taking the concept but actually making it work, otherwise every team could just copy MB and be within 0.1s the following race which is definitely not what is happening at the moment.

    1. @chimaera2003 Yeah for sure and well said. I think Fry inherently knows this and would probably admit it even though he shades it in the quotes above. It is one thing to try an idea, and it is interesting to know how quickly they can take another’s idea and try it, but it is another in determining if it works to expect that something might have to be changed with the front wing or the floor to really and truly make said idea near the rear tire work like the team that is being copied has done. I suppose sometimes just copying another’s ‘fence’ and putting it on might work without any other changes, but I certainly thought these cars were way too sensitive for that and that lucking into a change working so easily, in two days, would be rare. As you say wouldn’t we be seeing way more convergence way sooner then?

    2. I agree. Yes a particular feature part may be able to be copied in a day or so. However that part might be there to shape flows coming off other parts specific to that car so you would have to copy the whole car, not just that one part…

  4. If I was working in F1 design, or even marketing, I would simply add something odd to the release car to distract the other teams and get press inches.

    “Red Bull are hiding innovative new breaking system in plain sight”
    “How long will it take other teams to understand the new Williams six stacked diffuser?”
    “Is Ferrari breaking the rules with it’s odd looking air intakes” etc etc

    1. A new breaking system would certainly cost them a lot of money…

      1. Sure, but you get my point.

    2. Isn’t that what Mercedes done last year. Showed off the DAS system while hiding its rear suspension

  5. AMR can do better, they use the internet.

  6. Looking forward to seeing the ‘brake ducks’ 🦆🦆


    1. Cheque back later.

  7. Nice sentiment but if teams can do that AND stay within budget then perhaps the budget has been set too high.

    I would think that engineers should now have to think very carefully before committing resources to copying another teams design work “just to see if it works”. This whole “let’s copy that and see if we can gain time” is pretty much what caused the explosion of budgets in the first place with the big spenders essentially bringing updates based on what their competitors have done as fast and as often as they can.

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