When Formula 1 proudly unveiled its radical redesign of the sport’s technical regulations for the 2021 season after years of research and development, then-CEO Chase Carey couldn’t have been clearer about the underlying purpose behind the shakeup.
Coupled with the introduction of the budget cap and various other measures to try and make the sport more environmentally friendly, fans were primed to expect a revolution when the regulations were eventually introduced in 2022 – a year later than planned due to the impact of covid.
Transformed aerodynamics brought the concept of ground effect back into the sport for the first time since the early 1980s, putting the emphasis on car floors to generate downforce rather than wings and bodywork. By changing how cars created downforce, the aim was to drastically reduce the hated ‘dirty air’ effect that had long plagued the sport by robbing attack drivers of grip when running close to cars they were trying to overtake.
There have now been 25 grands prix held under F1’s new ground effect era – with three sprint races on top of that. But after 1,500 laps and 7,700 kilometres of racing under the belt of F1’s newest generation of cars, have the regulations had the desired effect of making racing better?
The immediate question of ‘do F1’s new cars allow drivers to follow closer’ appeared to be answered in pre-season testing last season, even before the first race even began. Drivers were universal in their view that, yes, they could now run closer to rivals without losing significant performance than in 2021. That appeared to translate on the track too, with metrics suggesting that overtaking did increase in 2022 compared to the previous season.
There’s also the relative closeness of the field. All ten teams have scored at least a point in the opening three rounds of the 2023 season – something never before achieved in the sport. The midfield is arguably as competitive as it has ever been, with the gap between the front and rear of the field historically close too – surely an endorsement of the major systematic changes introduced to the sport last year.
If the 2022 regulations revolutionised anything, then surely all it did was to establish Red Bull and Max Verstappen as the clear and undisputed dominant force in Formula 1, claiming 20 of the 25 wins of the era taken so far. But it’s not just how frequently Red Bull win – the margin of victory they have enjoyed has echoed that of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari at the peak of their dominance in the early 2000s.
The more concerning matter is that drivers are reporting that the various rules changes for 2023 designed to try and curb aerodynamic porpoising may be making it harder for them to follow rivals as closely as they could last season. When the regulations were introduced, F1 had floated the idea of possibly reducing the use of DRS if overtaking proved more viable – but DRS remains just as prevalent now than ever.
Have F1’s ground effect regulations succeeded in improving racing in the championship? Like most issues in this complex sport, the true answer is ‘it’s complicated’.
Domination by a single team and driver is always going to taint the perception of how good the racing is, especially if that team is regularly beating all others by 20-30 seconds over the course of a race distance. But if you take Red Bull out of the picture, the competition in Formula 1 has been just as exciting as it was prior to 2022 – if not more so.
Rarely do we see large lulls in races without some kind of action or battles somewhere through the field, even if DRS does tend to play an all-too-frequent role in an eventual overtake if it happens. And as most motorsport fans would likely agree, overtaking is not the be-all and end-all of what makes good racing – if it was, IndyCar oval races and Formula E would be the most popular forms of single-seater formula racing on the planet.
Instead, what makes racing truly exciting is a combination of a close competition, variety of results and how viable it is for drivers to attempt passes on the track, rather than in the pit lane. With the field undoubtedly closer due to the various changes to the sport outside of the technical regulations, arguably all F1 needs is the other nine teams to find some kind of solution to catch up to the all-conquering Red Bulls – as then most complaints around the quality of racing in the sport would likely begin to die down.
Do you agree that F1's technical regulations introduced in 2022 have improved racing?
- No opinion (0%)
- Strongly disagree (9%)
- Slightly disagree (9%)
- Neither agree nor disagree (5%)
- Slightly agree (45%)
- Strongly agree (33%)
Total Voters: 127
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