Virtually every discussion about the 2022 Formula 1 season with team personnel – whatever status they occupy within their organisations – ends with optimistic noises about the opportunity presented by the coming overhaul of the technical rules.
On an overall basis, the best the team bosses can collectively hope for – as do the fans, and fervently so – is that the revised regulations result in closer racing rather an any major changes in the established pecking order. That said, diehard supporters of particular outfits would love to see their red or orange or blue or whatever teams restored to championship-winning glory by the regulatory changes.
Although intended for 2021 introduction, the changes were rolled over a year due to Covid, with few further revisions other than clarifications. Said regulation changes are aimed at reducing ‘following car distance’ by reducing ‘dirty air’ created by cars ahead, which currently makes overtaking difficult – as Sergio Perez demonstrated on Sunday in Mexico, sitting directly behind Lewis Hamilton for the final 10 laps of the race.
Due to these changes next year’s cars will differ markedly from the current crop despite their power units being carried over virtually unchanged. Front and rear wings, airboxes, sidepods, brake ducts and underbodies are all affected. The adoption of 18-inch wheels is the biggest individual change, technically and visually. Renders and concept models released by F1 show the extent of the changes.
However, the biggest unseen influence on the design of the cars is brought about by the changes to parts categories, coupled with the effects of the $145 million (£107m) budget cap introduced from January 1st this year – which is also when the FIA allowed designers to get to work on their 2022 machines. However the big spends will occur during the first two months of 2022, when the cars are due to be produced and testing commences.
Previously components were divided into listed parts (to which teams need to hold the design rights) and unlisted (free sourcing) on a binary basis. Form next year, for cost reasons, the incoming regulations provide for four component categories, namely: Listed (as above), Standard (single supplier via tender), Transferable (shared between teams), and Open Source (design made available to all teams).
Examples of each category are:
- Listed team components (LTC): Aerodynamic components, survival cell and primary roll structure
- Standard supply components (SSC): Mainly safety items and electrical/fuel control systems
- Transferable Components (TRC): Complete front and rear suspension assemblies; electrical looms
- Open Source Components (OSC): Front floor structure, brake friction materials, rear brake control systems
The effects of these categories are, though, varied, and likely to affect all teams differently, depending upon their historic modus operandi and individual business models. For example, Haas, which traditionally outsourced the majority of components from Ferrari and Dallara will be affected differently to, say Mercedes or Ferrari, which have vertically integrated technical and manufacturing operations.
With its Red Bull Powertrains project – situated on Red Bull’s Milton Keynes campus – nearing completion the team will soon be fully self-sufficient and working to a Ferrari-style model in that its chassis and engine operations are clustered together. In comparison, around 60 kilometres separates the two Mercedes operations.
That said, Red Bull Racing operates to a unique model in that Red Bull Technologies is its primary supplier, which in the past also supplied sister team AlphaTauri – usually with year-old (design) components, and hence the historic similarity between their cars, albeit a year apart. The problem is that in 2022 there will be no year-old design parts to inherit. That same applies largely with the Aston Martin/Mercedes relationship.
In addition, the major teams are likely to be most affected by the financial regulations (budget cap), which resulted in reduced headcounts and potentially greater outsourcing than hitherto has been the case, in particular where price – not immediate availability or finite quality – is the main criterion. Haas is, though, well within the cap, while Sauber is gradually edging upwards.
Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and
Another influencing factor is the aerodynamic test regulations (ATR) which reduce wind tunnel and CFD allowances on a sliding scale. The best-placed teams in the championship are permitted fewer runs than their rivals.
This could prove crucial when testing 2022 concepts, particularly as some teams continued upgrading their 2021 cars due to the tightness of their championship fights, all while designing the 2022 challenger. This incurred resources that could have been allocated to 2022 cars.
“I think there’s several advantages to being further back in the championship, with the CFD and wind tunnel benefit that you get from that, which is really important for a 2022 car,” McLaren technical director James Key told RaceFans.
“It was great to finish third last year, but it did have a minor effect on how much development we could do with our tools compared to an eighth, ninth or 10th position team. They’ve definitely got a little advantage there.”
The major teams, though, have infrastructure advantages, having invested in the best facilities prior to the cap. This momentum is likely to benefit them – on a reducing basis – for the next two to three seasons until these technologies become outdated. Thus, any team boss who believes the playing field will suddenly be levelled is likely to be disillusioned.
That said, in the immediate aftermath of F1’s last major regulatory change, in 2009, saw the independent Brawn team, which rose out of the ashes of Honda’s withdrawal and was headed by current F1 managing director Ross Brawn, walk both titles after discovering a loophole in the regulations which permitted double-decker rear diffusers.
Only once others followed suit did this underfunded operation gradually lose its advantage. Could a similar situation arise next year, RaceFans asked Key; could some or other minnow outfit discover a trick or two?
“I think there’s a lot of subtleties in [the regulations] to be exploited,” he said, adding, “That’s going to be the journey in 2022. You’re not going to see double diffusers and that sort of huge kind of innovation with these regulations; they’re too restrictive for that.
“But there’ll be other clever ideas and ways of approaching things which we’ll begin to spot as these cars get released. So I think there’s probably less traps there.”
“It’s really difficult to say where it’s going to play out,” he continued. “When you’ve got new regs like this, the most terrifying part of the year is that first qualifying session where everyone actually shows how quick they are. I guess we’re not going to know until qualifying in Bahrain, ultimately, next year, exactly where people appear to stand. And even that can throw you a few oddballs at times.”
So, which teams can be justifiably bullish about 2022 and which not?
The team has amongst the best facilities and resources and enjoys the momentum of a seven-year hegemony. Add in politically astute team management, Daimler resources even if these are declarable under the cap, history of solid innovations such as DAS and current rear suspension design, in-house powertrain supplier, arguably the most complete driver of any generation in Hamilton, and Mercedes is likely to remain a front runner.
ATR restrictions, budget cap reductions and ‘clean sheet’ car design are, though, likely to impact on performance, as are the unknowns of the 18-inch tyres and effects of the engine freeze. Only a brave gambler would bet on a sub-top-three placing
Red Bull Racing
With a technical director (Adrian Newey) who is an ace aerodynamicist – significantly, the changes are mainly aero-related, which plays to his strengths – long-term management and operational stability (key personnel have been with the team for 15 years or more), a deep-pocketed owner in Dietrich Mateschitz and Honda’s race-winning engine – albeit no longer ‘works’ supported – and the most committed driver on the current grid (Max Verstappen) and solid number two (Perez), Red Bull could again be in the mix for top honours.
The team has, though, lost staff due to cutbacks and the Red Bull Powertrains project could deflect attention from 2022. Still, it has momentum from this year – regardless of outcome – so cannot be discounted.
The Italian team is rebuilding after some torrid years and draws on top class resources. The power unit was revamped with more promised prior to the freeze, while Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr complement each other perfectly. Having Rory Byrne, who designed Ferrari’s record-setting 1998-2007 cars, aboard as consultant is Ferrari’s ace card.
Headcount reductions and the need to regroup internally will have a negative effect, while its fight with McLaren for third place has split its focus, if only marginally. However, there are no doubts that Ferrari is on the way up.
The team took a budget cap hit last year so has its structures in place. As the only fully independent team reliant only on external (Mercedes) power unit supply it controls its own chassis destiny, while Daniel Ricciardo brings a wealth of car development experience with him, having raced for Red Bull and Renault before joining this year. He could make a vital difference.
On the downside the team team’s own facilities are not fully up to scratch and won’t be until 2023 at earliest – it still relies on Toyota’s Cologne wind tunnel for aero work. Although the team is highly motivated and expectations of big results in 2022 are probably premature.
Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and
The French team set itself a target of 100 races to score regular podiums and is thus unlikely to fight at the sharp end on before then.
“Now we have a bit more stability, a bit more of a runway and also more clarity on the fact that the investments are going to be more of less similar to others,” Alpine CEO explained to RaceFans in Mexico. “It’s going to be down to efficiency, experience, savvy-ness, other criteria, so I would say this new plan, we intend on fully delivering it.”
Still, the timeframe takes the team to 2024, at earliest. On the plus side it has the vastly experienced Pat Fry as technical director, while Fernando Alonso’s dogged determination, supported by the zest of Esteban Ocon, occasionally takes the team to places it has no right to be.
That will continue, but expecting better than fifth overall is a long shot a particularly if it fails to upgrade on the power unit front prior to the development freeze kicking in.
With Red Bull Technologies concentrating on the main team, the Italian operation is forced to undertake the bulk of its car design and development in Faenza, Italy. Concurrently it switched from using its own (50%) wind tunnel to Red Bull’s more representative 60% facility, which should improve accuracy provided there are no correlation issues.
Will the team move up from 6th next year? That will prove a major challenge, particularly given Yuki Tsunoda’s inexperience.
The team is Mercedes’ main customer and that is both a strength and weakness given the number of all-new components required for 2022. While not as acute as AlphaTauri’s situation, Aston Martin is nonetheless obliged to wait until Mercedes has fully completed whatever components it plans to draw from Brackley.
Strengths are Sebastian Vettel’s development ability, intensive recruitment of senior technical personnel – although these mostly arrive too late to influence the 2022 car – and the sourcing of complete Mercedes back-ends, which has basically proven bullet-proof.
In addition, Aston Martin is constructing a massive £200m extension to its campus, due to open by the start of 2023. But will all these factors prove sufficient to propel the team up the grid? Possibly by a slot or two in 2022; potentially more thereafter.
Capital expenditure investments made by new owners Dorilton have given the team a new lease of life, while receiving gearboxes from Mercedes from next year should improve reliability. Williams should move up, but would likely have done so without regulation changes given new executive and technical management led by Jost Capito and FX Demaison respectively. The questions are: how far, and who will slide down?
The Sauber-run team effectively stopped all work on its current car before the season started and ramped up its facilities and work force. Signing Valtteri Bottas, who has run Hamilton close on occasion, is a coup which should pay dividends on the race and development sides, but the team is likely to stick a rookie in the second car, which could hamper feedback.
However, the team is confident of moving up.
It is all change at Haas, which established a new design office in Maranello staffed (mainly) by ex-Ferrari people, with Dallara providing technical support where needed. The team took a conscious decision to not develop its current car in order to focus on 2022 and hopes the gamble will pay off.
Team boss Guenther Steiner told RaceFans in Mexico, “we can’t go further back,” so at worst the teams stays at the back of the grid. It does, though, have driver stability on its side while the new design office structure should pay dividends.
Ten teams, ten sets of hopes and ideals, yet on average just five will have achieved their objectives come Abu Dhabi 2022.
Conventional wisdom has it that the pecking order will be evident during qualifying for the opener in Bahrain, but even that is not a given for so new are the cars that performance could be unlocked thereafter. The 2022 season will likely be too close to call until the mid-point, possibly even later.
- The year of sprints, ‘the show’ – and rising stock: A political review of the 2021 F1 season
- The problems of perception the FIA must address after the Abu Dhabi row
- Why the budget cap could be F1’s next battleground between Mercedes and Red Bull
- Todt defied expectations as president – now he plans to “disappear” from FIA
- Sir Frank Williams: A personal appreciation of a true racer