We are two races into the season and there’s been a lot of talk about the 2019 regulation changes and how effective they have been. The conventional wisdom here is that Australia is a unique, one-off circuit that wasn’t going to really demonstrate how effective the simpler and higher wings were going to be but Bahrain, on the other hand, was a more typical track.
In Bahrain, one might be inclined to say the changes were a resounding success but you would also have to factor in the inclusion of a third DRS zone in the recipe. Was that an impact? Sure it was. Was it also assisted by the new regulations? According to the FIA’s Nikolas Tombazis, it probably was.
“I would say that how exciting a race is depends on a number of parameters and not just aerodynamics. It depends on tire management during the race, and we have revised tires this year. It depends, too, on performance differentials. For example, if you happen to have a car that is one second a lap faster than the following car, then no matter how much the rules have been designed to promote close racing. The fast car will pull away and the race will not be that exciting. It’s both a function of ability to follow each other closely and of the delta performance. And again we don’t know yet where that is. We have seen some design trends in Barcelona and I’m sure teams will try out each other’s solutions in their wind tunnels and in CFD, so I’m hoping that if there is initially a performance delta between the cars that due to certain parts of the car being a bit simpler convergence among teams will be relatively quick.”
The FIA introduced a number of key rule changes for 2019 that included simpler wings with a goal of improving racing.
“The major rule changes were aimed at facilitating closer racing. The most important ones involved the front wing and the brake ducts. The changes around these aimed to reduce the ability of teams to control [air] wake from the front wheels, which was being pushed outboard of the car and creating a lot of turbulence behind it. That had a detrimental effect on the aerodynamic stability of a following car, making it very difficult for a rival to get close and make an overtaking move.”
“We were not expecting a huge delta in Australia, which is a difficult track at which to overtake in any case. Some simulations were showing a +10% increase of overtaking, assuming a similar evolution of a race, of course. In other races the same simulations expect a more sizeable increase, possibly to the tune of +50%. To be clear, that is from simulations of cars following each other in races from last year, using this set of rules. That’s the feedback we’ve had so far, but it will really only become clear as we progress through the season. We weren’t expecting miracles in round one at Australia, but generally we are expecting a step in the right direction as far as aerodynamics are concerned.”
On the heels of the Indycar race in Austin, there was a lot of debate about the cars being 12-13s slower than the F1 cars were on the same track but the racing was far more exciting with a lot of wheel-to-wheel battles. Indycar uses a push-to-pass power boost and some argue that is what F1 should use instead of DRS. So is there a fear that F1 cars would be slower with the new regulations?
“We were not really concerned about whether the car would become slower or faster. That was not the objective. The goal was to facilitate closer racing, which makes the racing better. I really do not believe that the lap times we envisaged are significant. If we were 20 seconds slower that’s another story, but one or two seconds at the level we are at is inconsequential if it results in closer racing. Through their development of the cars, teams have clawed back time and will continue to do so across the season. I don’t think outright performance is part of this debate; I think it’s part of the distraction.”
There was a robust article over at Autosport today championing the DRS. I say that but it was actually saying it’s better than the alternative. It’s a nice piece but if we must be happy about DRS because no one in F1 will make the aerodynamic regulations that stop the phenomena of aero-wash and dirty air, then it’s a bit like saying, yes…I am glad we have Tamiflu but to be honest, I’d rather not have the flu at all.