Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

New F1 cars “probably as fast as last year” despite rules changes – Pirelli

2021 F1 season

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Formula 1’s official tyre supplier Pirelli believes new rules introduced to slow cars down this year will not lead to a significant rise in lap times.

A spate of tyre failures at last year’s British Grand Prix led F1 to introduce new rules cutting back downforce this year in a bid to reduce cornering speeds.

However Pirelli’s head of motorsport Mario Isola said data from pre-season testing indicated the latest cars will be almost as quick as they were last season.

“I believe that the performance is not too far from last year,” he said, stressing his observations were based on “preliminary results.”

The rear floor and diffuser dimensions of F1 cars have been reduced this year to achieve the cut in downforce.

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Alfa Romeo’s performance impressed Raikkonen
“I believe that compared to the original plan to have a downforce reduction in the range of 10%,” said Isola. “That was the reason why the floor was modified. Obviously the teams were working around the modifications.

“The current situation is probably a downforce reduction in the range of four or five percent, something like that. So they have been able to recover part of the downforce.

“Looking at the lap times the difference compared to last year is very, very, very small.”

At the end of the test Kimi Raikkonen said he believes Alfa Romeo are already quicker than they were last year.

“I’m not surprised of the amount of downforce they have been able to recover even before the start of the season, because we know that they are very good at doing that,” said Isola.

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However Isola is confident F1 will avoid a repeat of the tyre failures seen at Silverstone in 2020.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Imola, 2020
Feature: Will lap times keep falling in the last blast for F1’s fastest cars ever?
“We decided last year, together with the FIA, FOM and the teams, to work in two parallel directions. One, to reduce downforce on the car, and the other one to fine-tune the [tyre] construction in order to have a construction that is able to cope with the additional loads that are probably going to happen in the second part of the season.

“Despite the difficult situation we had with Covid we took the right decision and, working in parallel, we have now a product that is more robust and cars that are probably as fast as last year.”

Pirelli experimented with reducing the minimum tyre pressure limits during pre-season testing. Isola said they will consider reversing that change during the season if needed to give further protection to the tyres.

“If during the year they recover downforce and the level of stress on the tyres going [up], then we have to adjust the pressure according to the data collected.”

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10 comments on “New F1 cars “probably as fast as last year” despite rules changes – Pirelli”

  1. Kimi was right as his personal best on day three is slightly faster than his PB in qualifying for last season’s Bahrain GP. 1:29.776 vs 1:29.810 (Q1).
    Isola is probably also correct, although one has to remember that most of this year’s scheduled tracks don’t have last season as the most recent reference nor the reference for outright track record, but 2019 (2018 for Singapore and Brazil).

    1. @jerejj I think it’s fair to say that Alfa Romeo had probably half a second to a second of pace in the power unit improvement this year anyway so it was unlikely they’d be slower this year. The benchmarks will probably be Red Bull, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Alpha Tauri, Alpine for judging the aero change effect this year.

      The 3 Ferrari powered teams will be skewed by a big power difference this year. McLaren are a unknown as it’s hard to differentiate what is the Mercedes power unit gain against any aero loss. Williams have a huge budget boost this year and likely spent more on the development of the new car than last year and in fairness last years car was some way off the midfield so they had a lot to gain this year.

  2. A team like Alfa Romeo had obviously more to gain than, let’s say, Mercedes. They have more power and more aero efficiency compared to last year, which makes the car already quicker than in 2020.
    Other teams, especially those with a low-rake design, haven’t made such a big step (i.e. Alpine) and thus have lost a bit of performance compared to 2020.

  3. “Formula 1’s official tyre supplier Pirelli believes new rules introduced to slow cars down this year will not lead to a significant rise in lap times.”

    I believe there is a mistake in this line. :)

    1. Sorry, the mistake is only mine, I need some coffee.

      1. You weren’t the only one. Only after your second comment did I realize lap time RISE = slower cars

  4. It baffles me how the engineers constantly claw back a significant amount of performance from rule changes designed to slow the cars and yet in years with minimal rule changes they seem to find barely any time at all..!

    1. Indeed. Think of 2008-2009 where aerodynamic changes designed to slow down cars did not work. Mclaren, Ferrari were able to quickly fix the aero errors of their 2009 designs within half a season / one season. Ferrari also seem to have fixed their aero-issues of 2020 in 2021.

      I think with aerodynamics, the law of diminishing returns plays a major role. With little effort and resources, most teams can get an answer that is 80-90% right. But the last 10-20% is what requires a whole lot of money, resources and skill. That, in my opinion, explains why teams quickly claw back time lost due to aerodynamic rule changes but barely gain any incremental time when rules stay constant. It also explains why Adrian Newey’s cars in 2010-2013 (‘the’ benchmark when it comes to aero) were not as far ahead of their competitors as the last 10-20% doesn’t provide a whole lot of lap time. Aero-performance of cars converges fairly quickly post rule-changes.

      Compare that to other aspects of the car, such as engines or tyres, the law of diminishing returns is not a big factor. Engine performance doesn’t converge that quickly even with stable regulations. Regarding tyres, I am not sure but tyre performance varies significantly based on tarmac type, temperatures. So, not sure how long it takes for tyre performance between teams to converge (given stable tyre regulations).

      1. You are correct. For a given increase in download on a tyre, the lateral or longitudinal force it can then potentially generate will only increase a bit – these are not proportionately related. In other words, tyres’ coefficient of friction is not a constant, as it represents the gradient of a curved graph that tends to flatten out at the highest down loads.

    2. Disagreed, they find huge chunks with stable regs, especially early in the cycle with the last example being from the start of 2017, to the start of 2018, huge jumps in speed, several seconds actually.

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