Formula 1 is a multi-faceted sport with many areas of interest which attract the millions of international viewers who tune in to watch.
But the technical side of the sport – car design, research and development – has often been somewhat overlooked, particularly given how critical it is to deciding the race order at the chequered flag
That will change this season with the introduction of the all-new ‘Automobile Displays’, which are designed to open up the technical side of the sport to fans and make understanding car development more accessible than ever.
First proposed by Formula 1 managing director Ross Brawn and confirmed in the new 2022 sporting regulations published earlier this week, the new automobile displays have been likened to a ‘show and tell’ session. They promise to offer unprecedented transparency for fans and viewers into the technical side of the sport by requiring teams to share access and information about upgrades to their cars throughout the season.
Formula 1’s revised race weekend schedule beginning in 2022 will see the traditional Thursday media day scrapped with practice sessions will be moved later in the day on Friday to allow for pre-weekend media work to be held in the mornings. Instead on Thursdays, under Article 19.1 a), all ten teams must now submit a summary document to the FIA that briefly outlines “all major aerodynamic and bodywork components and assemblies that have not been run at a previous event… and are intended to be run at the event,” no less than 23 hours before the start of the first practice session.
This rundown of all changes to visible bodywork on their cars will remain sealed until around 90 minutes until first practice when the pre-event Automobile Display will now take place. All 20 cars will then sit on show for up to a full hour, with all of the major bodywork changes the team intends to run on their cars present on the car during their first run out on the circuit at the beginning of the first practice session.
The display will provide media at the circuit with an opportunity to identify the key changes to each of the 10 teams’ cars for the upcoming race weekend before a wheel is turned. While F1 media and technical experts have rarely struggled to recognise the big alterations teams make to cars to suit each circuit’s characteristics or upgrade packages intended to improve their overall performance, they have relied on trying to capture their own images showing the various parts from when the cars are out on the track. Now, fans will be able to enjoy extensive breakdowns and analysis of each team’s revised models before a single lap time is set.
Teams can be excused from being forced to display their cars as demanded by the regulations in the event of a major problem, but only at the discretion of the race director after submitting a formal request.
But the Friday morning display is not the only time over the race weekend teams will be made to show off their cars in this way. Half an hour after qualifying has finished on Saturday afternoon, a second automobile display session of the weekend will take place.
The two major differences in the Saturday display is that only five teams, chosen by the race director and technical delegate, will be compelled to present one of their cars with which they have completed qualifying. Of the teams that are chosen, each must put forward a “senior” representative of their technical or sporting teams for at least ten minutes to answer questions about their cars and any alterations made to them since the first display session on Friday morning.
In a sport as aggressively secretive as Formula 1, these new displays amount to a striking new level of clarity and access for both the media and F1 fans. While it might be easy to think that the teams might be less than pleased at being made to bare all in such a public manner, there are a few important reasons why this new element of the race weekend is not as revealing as it may seem.
Teams are naturally protective over not giving away information about their cars unnecessarily, but it is also true that by the time the cars are sat in the garage in Bahrain, waiting for the green light to signal the start of the first practice session of the season, teams will already have analysed thousands of gigabytes worth of images of their nine competitors over two pre-season tests. With teams only required to disclose changes to visible bodywork and aerodynamics, it’s all information that teams will inevitably discover about their rivals through the weekend anyway, making it less of a concern for each of the competitors.
There’s also the fact that the radical new regulations for 2022 have taken the emphasis away from aerodynamic performance generated by the car’s upper surface and instead reintroduced ground effect, making car underbodies far more crucial an area, even if they will be much less conspicuous.
In a season where the rate of car development is expected to be extreme, Formula 1’s cars will evolve extensively between the pre-season testing, the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and the finale in Abu Dhabi, 23 races later. With this new feature introduced to the sport, fans should be able to follow the technical war throughout 2022 better than ever before.
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