2022 F1 car model, Silverstone, 2021

How the double diffuser left F1 teams wary of “throwaway comments” over 2022 rules

2022 F1 season

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As Formula 1 prepares to unleash the biggest shake-up of its aerodynamic regulations in decades, teams are wary of missing a trick with their 2022 car designs.

The famed example of the Brawn BGP-001 illustrates why. For the 2009 season F1 made another of its drastic changes to the rules, greatly reducing the power of the cars’ aerodynamics. But three teams – including eventual champions Brawn – discovered a means of generating far more downforce than the rule makers envisaged.

Brawn GP came into existence shortly before the season began, after Ross Brawn led a management buy-out of the departing Honda team. They, along with rivals Toyota and Williams, had exploited a quirk of the rules to create diffusers with much greater volumes, and therefore superior performance, to what was expected from the 2009 cars.

It could easily have turned out differently. Several months earlier, before Honda’s bombshell post-season decision to quit, Brawn had dropped a hint to his rivals during a technical working group meeting that their goal of cutting downforce through the new rules for 2009 hadn’t worked.

He later recalled the conversation in his book Total Competition. “We have brought in rules to reduce the downforce by 50 percent in 2009,” he said. “But I know from what I am seeing, as we develop our car for 2009, that is not the case. So we are not achieving out objectives. Do we want to revisit the rules or are we all clear that we have not achieved our objectives?”

Cunning double diffuser helped Brawn to 2009 titles
Brawn was careful not to spell out what his team had discovered. But, as he later explained, so confident was he in Honda’s development programme, he wasn’t unduly concerned about the possibility of others discovering the double diffuser trick, exploiting it to the same degree they had – or even getting it banned.

At any rate, his dropped hint was not taken seriously. “Several people accused me of scaremongering, that it wasn’t true, the rules were achieving their objectives,” he recalled. “When it was raised everyone said ‘up yours’. I thought, ‘thank god for that’.”

Despite Honda’s withdrawal, Brawn’s team won both championships that year, thanks in no small part to the performance advantage they enjoyed in the opening races while their rivals attempted to ban (unsuccessfully) and copy (successfully) the double diffuser. More than a decade later, the experience has left today’s teams wary there might be an opportunity for a ‘silver bullet’ hidden deep in the 2022 rule book.

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“With any regulation change there’s always a risk and reward,” AlphaTauri technical director Jody Egginton told RaceFans. “Someone could find something, a sweet spot most likely with the aero concept, as they have done in the past – the double diffuser being one.”

The incoming rules are more refined than in 2009, says Egginton
But the 2022 regulations had already gone through a much more detailed development, overseen by Brawn himself after he became F1’s motorsport director. They’ve also benefitted from a further year of refinement as the Covid-19 pandemic prompted their postponement by a year to 2022.

“The amount of debate and the amount of work that’s gone into it from F1 and the FIA is at a far more detailed level than it ever [was] previously,” said Egginton. “More scientific as well. The teams have probably put it under more scrutiny and there’s been a lot more debate and the gestation period’s been longer – even without considering the pandemic.

“As a counter-argument, for every one person looking at it in F1 or the FIA there’ll be 10 in each team. But honestly, it’s possible, the teams will be working hard to do it.”

But if a team was to discover an unintended consequence of the new rules, would they exploit it? The FIA’s readiness to introduce mid-season technical directives to ‘clarify’ areas of the rules means development resources ploughed into areas it does not approve of could be wasted. Egginton suspects attitudes have changed since 2009.

2022 F1 car model, Silverstone, 2021
Feature: A technical director’s verdict on Formula 1’s 2022 car model
“The game is now, if a team finds something that they think is a loophole, they’ve got a decision to make: Do we want to try and exploit it? Are we sure? Or do we want to get it closed? And I think that ratio changes. The double-diffuser was a no-brainer for the teams who spotted it.”

Any Brawn-esque remarks in today’s Technical Advisory Committee will be pounced on, says Egginton. “Now I think people are very careful in TAC meetings to follow the throwaway comment.”

Of course, with everyone designing new aerodynamics from scratch, there remains the possibility someone will have a nasty surprise when the 2022 cars roll out for the first time next year. “Someone could just get it wrong as well,” he adds. “You can have a clear view ‘this is going to be fantastic’ and it might not work.”

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Author information

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...
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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33 comments on “How the double diffuser left F1 teams wary of “throwaway comments” over 2022 rules”

  1. Horner should throw away budget cap revision if there’s a mid-season technical directives just for fun.

    1. So, you are basically saying that he should cheat and open his team up to being heavily penalised by flagrantly breaking the sporting regulations?

      Any momentary satisfaction would be rather short lived, and I don’t think that the parent company would be impressed by the financial and reputation damage that would result from it.

      I doubt that Horner would consider it “a bit of fun”, given that the team would almost certainly get a very harsh penalty to make it clear that breaking the cost cap will not be tolerated.

      1. Huh? He should implied that Red Bull had already found the workaround and suggest any revision mid-season is not fair without compensation just to create a bit chaos for fun.

        Are you twisting my word for fun too? Which Anon is this anyway?

        1. someone or something
          24th August 2021, 12:44

          Are you twisting my word for fun too?

          There was no need to twist your words, you already did so by yourself. Because frankly, your comment is unintelligible.
          Before anon commented, I was wondering what on earth you wanted to say, and then he came up with an interpretation that kind of makes sense. But then it turns out you really wanted to say something that doesn’t match what you wrote.
          My guess is that you meant “throw around” instead of “throw away”.

          But even then, it doesn’t make much sense.
          Let’s assume there exists a loophole, and the FIA close it with a technical directive. Horner pretends this negatively affects Red Bull, and demands a higher budget cap as a compensation …
          … The FIA tell him to shut up, the resulting chaos is zero.

          1. My guess is that the original comment was written by someone for whom English is not a first language.

            It’s obviously clear in their mind what they meant, just not the rest of us.

  2. Not for everyone, but this is something I really love about this sport – the political and technical intrigue humming away in the background where the drivers are the face of the sport. The double diffuser story is just so incredible, and there have been so many similar examples in history of this sort of thing: the ‘water cooled brakes’ in 82, the whole FISA-FOCA war, the interesting fuel mixtures that were used in the 80’s (rumoured to be rocket fuel in some cases!), the selective punishments for Schumacher and Benetton and ’94 (where McLaren and Ferrari got off scott-free), the driver’s strike in Kyalmi in 1982, the double chassis concept on the Lotus 88 and so much more.

    Keith – there used to be a section on this site where you documented interesting anecdotes like this. You should maybe think about resuscitating that feature!

    1. Yes there is an article by RaceFans (F1 Fanatic) in 2016 compiling all articles about banned innovations in F1. I bookmarked it and it remains my favorite reading ever since hahaha..

      Here’s the link, enjoy:
      https://www.racefans.net/2016/08/22/f1-banned-many-innovations/

    2. Two of my favorites are from McLaren – the double brake pedal and the f-duct. What a team!

  3. Given that Brawn has already suggested that they’ll change regulations to prevent any a team from gaining the benefit of something innovative like the double diffuser was, I doubt we’ll see anything like it after a race or two in 2022.

    I used to love seeing the new seasons cars in the first few races and seeing how different innovations played out, even when one team ended up being way better than the rest of the field, but I’m not sure we’re ever going to see that again as there just doesn’t seem to be enough room for a team to bring something entirely radical to the table. That in turn is probably going to ensure that lower budget teams always remain at the back.

    1. but I’m not sure we’re ever going to see that again as there just doesn’t seem to be enough room for a team to bring something entirely radical to the table. That in turn is probably going to ensure that lower budget teams always remain at the back.

      I doubt it’s very often the ‘lower budget teams’ which come up with ‘something entirely radical’.
      All recent examples (double diffuser, flexi wings, FRIC, DAS, blown diffuser) came from well funded teams.

      1. I think it’s mainly because the majority of those innovations were too expensive to develop for smaller independent teams (except the double diffuser, Williams certainly weren’t a well funded team in 2009 anymore).
        Once the budget cap really kicks in (at about 100 million $), we will start to see the smaller teams bringing in innovations again. Money was the main reason the big teams dominated the sport in the recent past.

      2. Not entirely – Williams managed to come up with their own interpretation of the double diffuser independently of those larger teams.

        The interconnected suspension was also an old concept that originated from Tyrrell in the 1990s, which wasn’t the best funded team at the time, and blown diffusers was reusing a decades old idea – those came around in the 1980s.

        1. @srga91 and anon, I might be regurgitating utter nonsense, but I was always under the impression that Williams figured out the double diffuser idea from sharing an engine with Toyota. I’m sure I once read that somebody had twigged from the engine mount design or something similar.

          I’m a Williams fan. So definitely not trying to detract from their achievement, but if there were truth in that then it would have been only the two Japanese financial behemoths that fully developed it.

          I can find no stories on Google to verify what I’m saying though. So it’s probably something I imagined or made up.

          1. someone or something
            24th August 2021, 12:58

            @gongtong
            I hadn’t heard of this before, but I can’t help but wonder how this is supposed to have worked. In the case of a blown diffuser, the connection between engine mounting and diffuser layout is tenuous, but it does exist.
            However, I fail to see how the mounting of the engine might tell you anything about the diffuser layout.
            But obviously, me not seeing it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

  4. I love these ‘hide-and-seek’-games from F1 teams :)
    Try everything to hide your innovation to keep your advantage, but don’t anyone dare to have an innovation of their own. Then it’s either copy or ban it, if your version isn’t good enough.
    I find it somewhat pathetic tbh, but I guess that’s just how the business goes.

  5. The prospect of having any type of advancement or improvement quashed nearly immediately is going to be a much bigger deterrent to improving F1 than the budget cap.

    1. Yes or release your findings in step rather than all in to benefit from a competitive advantage longer. If the field is tighter, smaller performance gain will lead in bigger result gain.

    2. @johnrkh The budget cap, the more balanced money distribution, and the ground effects cars are the innovations that have been negotiated and agreed in order to improve F1. The tightened rule book in order to try to prevent loopholes from being exploited is meant to keep a team from finding something that sees a potential run of utter domination turn people away from a predictable F1.

      So in making some big innovative decisions yes they are trying to curtail teams from innovations that might take away from the concept of more teams and drivers able to fight, and feel like they have a fighting chance, with each race and each season, rather than just what has become the norm, that being one (or two teams tops) only, grabbing the vast majority of poles and wins.

      Innovations are fascinating, but they have often gotten banned or copied in short order in the past, and that reality flies in the face of what F1 needs to be doing for the time being, which is to right the ship, in large part by maintaining something such as what we are seeing this year finally, which is some unpredictability to qualifying and to the races, albeit still only between two drivers this year, everyone else with nowhere near a reasonable chance of winning the Championship, but which has still made a huge difference to the excitement and tension.

      The budget cap is not a deterrent to improving F1, but a long needed necessity, by keeping the financial side within reality land. Just as innovations that sometimes only drive up costs unnecessarily after being banned or copied, which results in a re-levelling of the lay of the land between teams post-innovation, which happens so often, takes F1 out of reality land for most of the teams, and makes some innovations an exercise in futility and mostly for the ‘have’ teams to luxuriate in, unworried about the money it costs them if it gets banned, and uncaring about what it costs everyone else if it gets copied.

      1. @robbie The budget cap, the more balanced money distribution, and the ground effects cars are the innovations that have been negotiated and agreed in order to……

        Turn F1 into Indycar+.

        I guess it’s just time to accept that F1 no longer exists & will exist even less when the Indycar+ formula comes in next year.

        F1 was a thrilling series about pure performance, technology & a constant development race between teams. That is what got it above everything else, That is what has kept it above everything else & without that it is going to decline & start to look like nothing special because it’s going to be GP1/Indycar+. A boring, pseudo spec, overly restrictive formula developed for the low attention span fan who don’t have the attention or technical knowledge to follow F1.

        Those of us who love F1, Who understand F1 & who like the way it has been since it’s inception are been kicked in the nuts by American owners who have no idea what they are doing, Who have no knowledge or respect for the history of the sport, The heritage of the sport or what actual long time fans of the sport care about or want.

        They care about turning it into Indycar+, To copy NASCAR with gimmicks & silly awards for everything, To cater to the low attention span non-fans. Liberty don’t care about the fans, They don’t care about the fans who have spent a fortune on F1 over the years, They don’t care about anyone who understands the sport & they don’t care about anyone who call’s themselves an F1 fan.

        They can turn F1 into Indycar+ & watch it decline. I guarantee, I bet my life that within the next 10 years they have to admit they messed up. The budget cap will be removed, More technical freedom will be allowed, Performance will be brought back & Liberty will be gone with the Americanised era we are suffering through currently looked back on as the worst time in the sports history.

        #LibertyOut! #NoToAmericanF1 #NoToIndycar+ #BringBackRealF1! #WeWantF1! #OutWithTheAmericans! (And I say that as an American).

        1. And I still see the hashtags here…Wonder how many hashtags there will be if a very dangerous incident happens…

        2. @roger-ayles You just don’t seem to grasp that while “F1 was a thrilling series about pure performance, technology & a constant development race between teams. That is what got it above everything else, That is what has kept it above everything else & without that it is going to decline” is somewhat true, the reality is that it was in decline with all that you espouse of it in place. F1 had become unsustainable and the lower half of the grid was just barely hanging on thanks to the money game it has been for so long but especially so once BE and CVC got together and made it a money grab and had the top four teams running the show for themselves, while completely shutting out the lesser teams from even daring to dream of building themselves up into something, let alone a new team dare join. As I suggested to @johnrkh vote with your feet and stop watching and that is the best way to send the message to Liberty. For now the teams have agreed the new regs so they are obviously far less concerned about the new chapter than some in their armchairs, and they have voted by signing on to this new chapter, restrictions and all. Why? Probably because they know to some degree they brought this upon themselves. To claim “They don’t care about the fans who have spent a fortune on F1 over the years, They don’t care about anyone who understands the sport & they don’t care about anyone who call’s themselves an F1 fan.” is I assume a complaint you have against the teams as well, for they have agreed the new regs. Why are you watching, since your team has also been ignorant and uncaring to fans’ needs and desires?

      2. No @robbie, innovation is F1. F1 has degraded over the years but not through to much development but the squeezing out of new ideas sometimes very radical and totally out of the blue. Under the new rules we will never see the likes of a Chapman or McLaren. It’s nearly beyond comprehension why you and a few others are happy to see people like that pushed out of the sport forever, and Instead applaud f1 heading towards a corporate cut and paste one size fits all paint them any colour you like Euro Indy.
        We will get a good idea of how harshly the new regs will be enforced by the end of 2022. Plenty of talk to come about that I’m sure.
        The next big change will come with 2026. A situation could arise or be fabricated where it no longer makes commercial sense for the majority of the teams to develop and make their own chassis. Just like the situation we have now with the PU’s. No Robbie I don’t see a flood of engine manufacturers fighting to get into F1, it’s the opposite, they’re struggling to hold on to the ones they have. I posted something about that and RB’s decision to buy the Honda PU a couple of months ago.

        Ironic that the person leading the charge to close ‘loop holes’ made his name by introducing a daring new type of design that dominated the field at the time.

        1. @johnrkh Very radical and totally out of the blue ideas are usually quickly banned or quickly copied, and rarely anything otherwise. You are harkening back to Chapman and McLaren to make your point? I take it you have been disgruntled for a very long time then. Yet it seems you still watch F1.

          It is pure rhetoric on your part to twist my stance into me being “happy to see people like that pushed out of the sport forever, and Instead applaud f1 heading towards a corporate cut and paste one size fits all paint them any colour you like Euro Indy.” You are wrong about my stance, and wrong about F1. I have said all along that I am all for innovation…just not to the point where it got that it made F1 unsustainable and a game of he who has the most money wins. Blame the teams for their behaviour, and BE for his last decade of money grab and handing the power to the top 4 teams as a consolation prize for his money grab. But it was already an issue well before that.

          Budget caps for this very reason have been talked about for decades, and it is Liberty that finally had the guts to do something about it, and btw rally the teams together to hammer it all out and negotiate it and sign off on it. These criticisms you have of Liberty or of ‘F1’ need to include the very teams that would like to have more room for innovation, yet understand and signed off on why that needs to be curtailed for now.

          “Pushed out of the sport forever?” Sheesh no wonder your knickers are in a knot. You think everything is written in stone and you are overdramatizing. You’re even already making huge assumptions about 2026 with no basis in facts. And…how does the rhetoric of teams making their own chassis have anything to do with Pus? And…this sport that you still watch consists of teams that would agree to a generic chassis? If that’s what you think of the integrity of F1 teams, why are you bothering to watch? If you think they are just sheep being herded by Liberty, and that they’re so weak that eventually they won’t even be making their own chassis, and will agree to that, why are you bothering?

          Nobody has expected nor predicted a ‘flood of engine manufacturers fighting to get into F1,’ but for starters it is amazing that RBR has stepped up to take their fate into their own hands by being capable of making their own by 2025, no longer wanting to be dependant on a pu maker but rather could become a supplier themselves, and there is talk that Audi and/or Porsche are very interested. Who exactly is ‘struggling to hold on to the ones they have?’

          It is not “Ironic that the person leading the charge to close ‘loop holes’ made his name by introducing a daring new type of design that dominated the field at the time” it’s just that that was then and this is now. Brawn of all people knows how much money can be spent and gone to waste as well, chasing and chasing a tenth here and a tenth there, while the lesser teams get shut out completely and no new teams dare enter. It’s nearly beyond comprehension to me that you don’t understand that F1 had become unsustainable and has needed these drastic measures in order to ensure we even have an F1 at all.

          Let’s be grateful that an entity took over from BE and actually has addressed all the huge issues that really mattered to keeping F1 afloat, and let’s respect that it is their bat and ball for having stepped up to do the right things, and let’s see where it goes from here. Nothing is written in stone and the only thing constant is change, especially in F1. Let’s sit back and watch the story of the new F1 unfold, and see where it evolves from what I call the zeroing of the scales and the return to reality land that I call this new chapter. Where it was headed was a 12 or 14 car grid and one team and driver only ever winning. Is that worth more freedom of innovation so that the have teams can continue to have more, or so that once in a blue moon a lesser team actually finds something that might, maybe last them for half a season? I’ll take my chances with the new chapter, thanks. It will mean we will have F1 for a long time yet, and it will take us back decades to when it was more about the driver vs the driver, not the engineers vs the engineers telling the drivers how to drive.

          Do I wish we had 10-13 teams all with at least 200mill to spend, and that the cap was at that level if there even was one, and that innovations abounded? Sure. That would be great. It truly would. It is simply just not the reality.

          I suggest you gather yourself and your disgruntled cohort together and stop watching F1 and that will be the best and strongest message you can send that you feel F1 has gone in the wrong direction, perhaps even before you have actually experienced said new direction. And I suggest the same for the teams and the Neweys. If it is so bad, so restrictive, so not worth it, take those issues to Liberty and Brawn, don’t sign off on the new direction, vote with your feet, and then we’ll see how written in stone things are. Trust me, they aren’t. Not if it comes down to viewers and teams or team members voting with their feet. So far it seems the teams are all proceeding with enthusiasm towards the new gen. I they lose some fans along the way, that was always a possibility I’m sure, and of course the goal is to achieve a net gain in fans, sponsorship, and teams. The path they were on pre-Liberty was not going to do that. Just the opposite.

          1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            26th August 2021, 8:34

            +1 Robbie, I think that spelled it out perfectly.

            @johnrkh and @roger-ayles need to ask themselves the question, is their notion of the future of F1 affordable?
            In my mind and in the minds of many of those working in F1 its is not. Hence the changes.

            Many of the lower series and formulae which are now spec did once have different chassis types, mods and innovation but they had to change to survive. F1 is not immune from from being affected in the same way.

            Everything changes, sometimes in your view for the worse, its called reality, get used to it.

          2. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk I’m not against the budget cap! I’m absolutely against the killing of the engineering innovation and that’s the only thing now that really differentiates F1 from other forms of Motor Racing. All Motor sport is struggling with keeping their fans and competitors, this desperate clutching at straws and knee jerk reactions will not help at all. Many of the ‘innovations’ introduced are cheap glitzy gimmicks and the restrictions on the chassis is a wedge.

            Many of the lower series and formulae which are now spec did once have different chassis types, mods and innovation but they had to change to survive. F1 is not immune from from being affected in the same way.

            You and @Robbie both support the spec series formula, I would say that would put you in the minority. You openly support it while Robbie constantly denies they are even moving towards that goal.
            Maybe F1 will have to move to a spec series but it could no longer call it’s self F1.

          3. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            26th August 2021, 12:36

            @johnrkh I don’t like the idea of a spec series or a very prescriptive formula which is almost a spec series, but I don’t see an alternative.

            The

            killing of the engineering innovation

            is going to happen for sure if F1 dies a slow death because its too expensive. With the new regulations the engineering challenge may be diluted, but it will still be significantly more than a spec series. This is the lesser of two evils in my opinion.

            The budget cap is not necessarily going to save the less well off teams. Its too high, there are too many exceptions and work arounds. Plus I’m not convinced it will help them move up the grid to attract better sponsors.

            As for my view being in the minority, I’m not so sure, but either way it doesn’t matter. Right and wrong aren’t decided by a popular vote. I’d must sooner trust those on the inside of the business who understand it to get it right and they are certainly in the minority!

            F1 has experimented lots of times and kept the good changes and disposed of the bad. This is just another such instance.

            If I was to hazard a guess at who is in the majority as F1 fans I’d say its those who tune in on a Sunday afternoon an hope for an entertaining race, but I might be wrong?

            I hope despite your dislike of the new rules, you continue to watch and enjoy F1 in the future!

          4. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk Been watching since 69 I didn’t stop watching when Bernie took over, I didn’t stop watching when Liberty took over. I won’t stop watching because someone tells me to (not you). The next couple of years could be a struggle and if it does go to a spec series then yes that will be it for me.

          5. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            26th August 2021, 13:39

            @johnrkh 69!
            I thought I was the only old boy on here, but you beat me. My first GP was the 1973 Austrian. I was there with my dad who worked for Hewland Gearboxes. massive fan since then.

    3. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      24th August 2021, 16:29

      Also, knowing that teams are constrained financially, wouldn’t be surprised if clarifying or exposing a loophole strategically after a few races will be one of the tricks employed by teams (cough…cough…red bull) so that the opposition ends up redesigning their cars mid season at the expense of development.

      1. @asleepatthewheel

        Good point. Innovating might be doubly punished by the cost cap as it costs more to innovate and then can cost more to undo that innovation if it is banned.

  6. Coventry Climax
    24th August 2021, 18:05

    “But if a team was to discover an unintended consequence of the new rules, would they exploit it? The FIA’s readiness to introduce mid-season technical directives to ‘clarify’ areas of the rules means development resources ploughed into areas it does not approve of could be wasted.”

    And that, exactly that, is what I do not like about the direction things are developing into. It makes my heart bleed.
    To think there’s still people claiming it’s not going in the direction of a spec series.

    1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      26th August 2021, 8:53

      F1 has brought in rules to reduce costs and improve racing many times over the last 20-30 years. Had they not done so F1 might not even exist now.

      The amount of money in F1 that companies, governments and individuals are prepared to commit to it is not limitless. Therefore F1 has to limit costs.

      “Spec” seems to have become a dirty word on this forum, but remember a large amount of motorsport and feeder series’ owes their existence to such a philosophy. Is spec preferable? Probably not in the upper formulae. Is it a necessary evil? Yes I think it is, that and very prescriptive regulation. F1 needs to survive first, technical diversity can come when its affordable.

      Also See my post above

  7. 2009 was a crazy season because of regs uncharted territory, it doesn’t matter if it brings one team to domination when others still can catch up. Yet it’s better than a static scenario like the last few years have been.

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