Making changes in Formula 1’s sporting and technical regulations is not an overnight process. The more drastic the proposed changes, the longer it can take to implement. There’s a very good reason for this as teams are heavily leveraged in car and system design well ahead of a new season and they also can’t or don’t want to run two separate development programs for 2020 and 2021 as that would be cost prohibitive.
In the past, some changes have been ushered in without much time to absorb the impact but with 2021’s massive overhaul, the sport owners have telegraphed these changes for two years in some form or fashion while negotiations continued over the details.
As we’ve seen in the past, big regulation changes can upset the apple cart and past success is not always indicative of future performance as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff points out:
“2021 is going to be a completely new challenge because the regs are being put upside down,” said Wolff in an end-of-season Mercedes review.
“What [exists] today in terms of aero will not exist anymore in 2021.
“And I believe it’s an opportunity as a team to do a decent job and prove that we can go through a regulatory change and come out on top like we’ve done in the past.
“But certainly there is no sense of entitlement. Last year’s records don’t buy us any credit for future seasons to come.
“It’s something that is very exciting for us and I personally really look forward to have 2021 coming.”
He’s right, of course, and it was the big change to hybrid engines that his team were heavily involved in designing back in 2013 that dislodged Red Bull Racing from their dominance of the sport.
Toto implies that Mercedes could find itself on the back foot with the changes in 2021 and he’d know better than most but I am inclined to suggest that this will not be the case as the series seems set to continue with the Current hybrid engine Mercedes championed in 2014.
Removing the drivability and power issue from the performance equations leaves all of the focus on how best to apply class-leading power to a new chassis design with less downforce. Something tells me that Mercedes, Renault, Ferrari and possibly Red Bull are best positioned to weather the regulation storm as it were. Manufacturers and Red Bull with its Honda partnership are in better positions to fund the development needed to find the best way to harness the hybrid engines power to a new chassis design.
There is no assurance that Merceds will get it right and in that, Toto is correct. However, I think have an engine formula so long in the tooth is a big boost and with the 2021 cars all being developed outside of the new cost cap, R&D budgets will be big for the top teams.
If the top teams have big budgets, get the designs correct and retain such a power performance advantage and familiarity, this may not be the radical change in competitiveness as we may have thought.
The Dual Diffuser Trope
There is always the chance that a smaller team will come up with a creative interpretation of the new regulations that finds their car using a tricked out piece of aero kit that is capable of beating the big fish. Brawn GP did it in 2009 with the dual diffuser.
It would be difficult to do, however, and with 1,000+ people working at the big teams, there are not many rocks left unturned. There is a part of me that believes they should have instituted the cost cap prior to changes in the regulations so the teams were all working with the same kinds of budgets on their new cars.
There may be reason that wouldn’t have mattered because the genius these teams can afford is another element regardless of budget but at least we might have ruled out buying your way to titles. Then again, maybe not.
Hat Tip: Autosport