Formula 1 underwent one of the biggest rule changes in its history in 2022, and as legendary aerodynamicist Adrian Newey put it, the biggest change in 40 years. The aim was to provide closer racing, make it easier for cars to follow each other and bring the field closer to each other. Did they deliver? Did they live up to the promise?
Understanding the new regulations
2022 saw an introduction of a lot of new rules, from the cars to financial and sporting regulations. These regulations were slated to come into effect in 2021, but due to COVID induced shutdowns and delays, the launch of the regulations was delayed to 2022 (except the financial regulations).
Formula One is expensive. Very expensive. In 2019, the top teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull) in the sport were spending nearly 400 million dollars per year to run their Formula One venture. Meanwhile, the teams on the back of the grid (like Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams) were barely afloat, spending about 100-150 Million USD per year.
In F1, more money often leads to more performance, and the gap between the top teams and the backmarkers was huge. The field was spread rather far apart and no one could challenge the stalwarts at the top. It was not very competitive and in most cases, one or two teams would just drive away from the rest of the pack.
To sort this out, F1 introduced a "budget cap" for Formula 1 teams in 2021, which would limit their spending to a certain, attainable amount for every year. The budget cap would cover costs like employee wages, design and manufacturing costs, shipping and logistics costs and on-track expenses like the paddock. It does, however, exclude the wages of the top 3 earners of a team, and the drivers.
For the larger teams, any money they earn from sponsorships that does not go towards the amount spent under the budget cap is essentially profit, which ensures that this is one of the first eras in Formula One history in which the teams are financially sustainable business entities.
There are currently only 4 engine manufacturers on the grid; namely Mercedes, Ferrari, Alpine (Renault) and Honda (rebadged as Red Bull Power Trains for 2022). Engines are not under a budget cap for now, but they will be in the future.
The budget cap was 145 Million USD for 2021 and 140 Million USD for 2022 (but was extended by the FIA due to extreme inflation). It was supposed to be 135 Million USD for 2023, but that might change.
Perhaps the biggest domain of change in the new regulations, Formula One promoted the usage of the ground effect by reintroducing non-flat floors in 2022, after it was largely restricted in 1983. It was deemed too unpredictable and unsafe. To put it simply, ground effect cars generate their downforce from being close to a fixed surface (i.e, the track) and use a specific floor design (Venturi Tunnels) to do so.
This is especially lucrative since it's extremely efficient, with a very high downforce:drag ratio. Downforce is preferable, since it allows a car to be faster through a corner, but drag is not, since it slows a car down on the straights. A higher downforce:drag ratio is the goal for most aerodynamicists. This is all extremely oversimplified, and I do encourage the reader to do their own research on the topic, as it is very interesting. F1 has a great video on the basics of ground effect.
(The Venturi effect is a phenomenon that occurs when air is forced into a narrower path, causing it to travel at a higher speed and with lower pressure). This video by F1-based content creator Chain Bear, created in collaboration with Autosport, explains it well:
But why was it banned? The 70s and 80s were a wild era in Formula One, as it spawned the era of adapting designs from other areas of mechanical and aerodynamic design into the sport in clever, ingenious ways, and with a very sparse rulebook to go along, the only limit was the imagination of the engineers (and maybe costs, wind tunnels and manufacturing capability too)! Sadly, though, safety was not a priority or even much of a thought during the era, and sometimes these wild experiments ended up costing lives.
Early ground effect cars used skirts (extensions on the side of the floor) that effectively sealed off the edge of the floor of the car, which ensured that no airflow would escape through the sides. This was extremely effective when it worked, since it made the Venturi tunnels very, very effective. However, it was terribly unsafe when it didn't work. Essentially, the seal was responsible for most of the downforce generated by the car, but if it was disturbed mid-corner by debris, uneven track surfaces or even just a pebble or two, it would lose nearly all of the downforce, sending it straight on into a barrier or even just walls (in places like Monaco) which resulted in a lot of accidents and deaths. It was deemed too unsafe to use, and flat floors were mandated. This video by Sam Collins explains the phenomenon in detail.
It must be noted that despite the flat floors, a raked floor does generate a venturi-like effect on the floor. Raked floors were seen before the reintroduction of ground effect in 2022, most notably in the high downforce Red Bull cars.
However, in the last 40 years, there has been significant advancement in our understanding of aerodynamics and the principle of ground effect. Therefore, F1 sought to return to this phenomenon in its bid to achieve its goal of reducing aerodynamic wake.
But what is wake? Aerodynamic wake refers to the turbulent air that is left behind a car as it moves at high speed. This wake can have a significant impact on the performance of the car, and in many cases it can be detrimental to its performance. One of the main problems with aerodynamic wake is that it can disrupt the flow of air around the car, causing drag and reducing its speed. This is especially true for cars that are following closely behind another car, as they will have to contend with the wake from the car in front of them.
When a car is engulfed in the wake of another car, the flow of air around it can be disrupted, which can cause the car's wings and other aerodynamic features to lose their effectiveness. This can reduce the car's downforce and grip, making it more difficult to handle and less stable at high speeds. Going to into a corner, this can result in a significant loss of downforce, causing extreme understeer and unpredictability. Content creator Chain Bear explains it well in his video on the topic.
Wake, often referred to as "dirty air", has probably been the biggest hindrances to close racing in F1. Of course, closer racing is both more fun for the drivers and the viewers, so the FIA set out to solve this problem. The aerodynamics of the cars have been simplified a lot, and curved surfaces have been prioritised.
The emphasis has been to reduce outwash, channel vortices and air around disruptive elements, like the front wheels, using the front wing endplates and elements, so that the turbulence from the wheels doesn't destroy the vortices and unseal the sides of the car. The front and rear wings have been extremely simplified, and have no flow separators between them (unlike 2017/18, when they were extremely common in the complex front wing designs of the era). This has led to the front wings being much higher than they have been in previous years, when they were extremely close to the ground.
The new rear wings feature rounded tips to create a mushroom-shaped narrow wake behind the car, which is redirected upwards due to a steep diffuser ramp, giving the car behind much cleaner air than previous generations. The front wings, meanwhile, channel the air narrowly beside the car, reducing outwash.
The new regulations also saw the introduction of over-wheel winglets and the reintroduction of wheel covers (after they were outlawed in 2009). The over-wheel winglets help control the wake coming off the front tyres and direct it away from the rear wing, while the wheel covers reduce any wake from the wheels.
All of this meant that the cars in 2022 were significantly different than those in the years before them, both in terms of how they channel air through them, and how they generate downforce.
As F1 moved into a new era, the chassis had to be reimagined as well. F1 has been using carbon fibre composites for decades now, since they're both light and strong. At the forefront of the new chassis regulations were some essential safety improvements.
After the crash of Romain Grosjean at Sakhir (Bahrain) in 2020, the design was modified such that in the event of a crash, the power unit will separate from the chassis in a safe manner without exposing the fuel tank.
Anthoine Hubert's accident at Spa in 2019 and the subsequent investigation of the incident inspired multiple changes, including a longer nose section to help dissipate energy in a crash, together with stronger chassis sides to resist T-bone incidents.
The energy absorption requirements were also increased dramatically, requiring the chassis to absorb 48% more energy in front impact tests, and 15% more energy in the rear impact tests. Its durability would also be measured using static squeeze tests to certify the strength of the chassis.
The chassis now needs to absorb 48% and 15% more energy respectively in the front and rear impact tests, and withstand greater forces in the static ‘squeeze’ tests required to homologate the chassis and certify their strength.
The suspension mechanism was also highly simplified, to help police them better and make the designs much more adaptable to road cars. Proclaimed analyst Craig Scarborough explains it well in his Tech Talk video for the official F1 YouTube channel. Teams were also given a choice for a push rod or a pull rod suspension, as explained by Albert Fabrega. This style of suspension is best explained visually.
The fuel mixture was changed for 2022, raising the bio-component composition from 5.75% to 10%. The new composition is called an "E10 fuel" with the E referring to its Ethanol composition. The ethanol will be a second generation biofuel made in a sustainable way, meaning it will have a near-zero carbon footprint. This of course, is just another step, as F1 plans to use completely sustainable fuel in the future, and also works on maintaining parity with current road car fuel regulations.
More importantly, however, engine development (in terms of performance) would be prohibited after the 2021 season began. After Honda announced that they would leave F1 after 2021, Red Bull lobbied for a freeze in Power Unit development as both their team and their sister team, Scuderia AlphaTauri, would be left without a supplier and would have to take over Honda's existing project. They wanted to be a works team and not a customer team, especially after their relationship with Renault soured in the previous years.
The proposal would also save most teams a lot of money, so it was readily accepted. Later on, after Red Bull won the WDC in 2021, Honda announced that they would supply PUs to Red Bull, albeit not as a sponsor, and they would be rebadged under Red Bull's new Power Unit division Red Bull Power Trains (RBPT) whilst the latter still took over the IP and continued developing facilities for their eventual takeover of all manufacturing and development by 2026.
However, reliability upgrades would be allowed later on, but only after scrutiny from both the FIA and the other PU suppliers to ensure that these upgrades didn't improve performance by any metric. This would make the late-2021/early-2022 winter crucial as teams would have to finalise a fast power unit before the development freeze would set in.
Pirelli was tasked with a very notable overhaul this year, as F1 moved from 13" tyres to 18" tyres after a decade on the former. Moreover, with the new regulations' intention to promote better racing, the goal was to make the tyres last longer while still having enough tyre wear to incentivise the teams to make pitstops. The tyres would also be heavier, and the reintroduced wheel covers would only add to that weight. The sidewalls on the tyres would also be significantly smaller, resulting in lower tyre pressures.
Pirelli tyres work at their optimal performance state in a very specific temperature window (80-120 °C). Therefore, the teams use tyre blankets to heat the tyres close to the required range. In 2021, the front tyres could be heated to 100°C, and the rears could be heated to 80°C. In 2022, the tyre blanket temperatures were reduced to 70°C across the board. This helps save a lot of energy, but also results in much colder tyres when the drivers leave the pits, requiring them to change their approach to outlaps. During the 2022 season, Pirelli tested 50°C tyre warmers for their 2023 prototype tyres, but with negative feedback from the drivers, postponed the introduction of these lower temperature tyre warmers as they work on phasing them out entirely.
A fact often forgotten in most discussions criticising Pirelli is that they do not actually make such temperamental, low durability tyres. These were the targets F1 set for them when they joined the sport back in 2011. F1 wants to incentivise strategy battles between teams, and pitstops are the most efficient way to do so. The regulations already mandate using at least two different tyre compounds in a single race (when it's dry). Pirelli could, probably, make a soft tyre that could last a whole race, as tyre companies inherently work on making tyres with the least degradation, but the most grip. What F1 asks Pirelli to do is unique, and rather contrary to what they actually develop for the road. I think Mario Isola (the head of Pirelli Motorsport) explains it best:
Teams use CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and wind tunnels to design and test the effectiveness, characteristics and performance of the aerodynamic parts they design. In the past, teams could run their wind tunnels for unrestricted periods of times, which saw some teams even trialing multiple wind tunnels at once. However, for the past few years, F1 limited Wind Tunnel usage to 65 runs per week for all teams.
Wind tunnels are expensive to maintain and operate, therefore, in conjunction with the cost cap, the default wind tunnel allowance has been reduced to 40 runs per week. That isn't the case for all teams though, as F1 introduced a sliding scale system in 2021 that they further modified for 2022-2025. Teams with higher positions in the constructors' standings will be given significantly less runs than those on the bottom. For 2021, the allocation for the top constructor and the one at the bottom was 90% and 112.5% of the default allocation respectively, and has since expanded to 70% and 115%. The same applies to CFD as well. The goal of this to reduce costs and further increase parity, as teams down the grid get to use the wind tunnel a lot more, and as a consequence have more freedom to develop different parts.
The FIA also introduced regulations mandating sharing of certain information by the teams to the public. From 2022, all the teams have to publish every change or upgrade they bring to the car on a given weekend, with a basic functional overview of said upgrade. The media will also be allowed to ask questions, and this will be applicable in future seasons as well.
F1 is a secretive sport, with scandals such as Spygate (2007) being some of the notable moments in its history. More transparency ensures that such incidents are unlikely, and knowledge is shared. Moreover, if eight or more teams agree upon it, they can refuse to allow a team's interpretation of the rules. Technical regulations will also be enforced based on the "spirit of the regulations", and not just the words.
Track limits were mandated to the white lines on the track, instead of the variable track limits in previous years. The FIA also introduced a double race director system, where they would switch between Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich to lead race control at a Grand Prix. However, due to inconsistent decisions throughout the year, including multiple black-and-orange flags for Kevin Magnussen, this system was abolished for the last few Grands Prix in 2022.
Analysing the 2022 Season
The effects of the regulations
While this set of regulations has been one of the most prescriptive ones in F1 history, there was some leeway for F1's engineers to innovate, and despite most spectators expecting a fairly homologous design approach, this season gave us a lot of variation, with a lot of variance in approach and design. As the cars rolled out the garages in Barcelona and Bahrain for pre-season testing, the immediately noticeable difference was the extremely different approach everyone took to sidepods. Perhaps the most intriguing ones were Mercedes' "no-pods", where they took a vertical approach instead of a horizontal one which they said would help with drag, and Ferrari's "bathtub" style pods.
Drivers took fewer risky moves this year, leading to fewer crashes. Perhaps the biggest contributor to this was that unlike previous eras, where you would only have one shot at attempting an overtake before tyres heated up and the car lost a lot of laptime, drivers could follow much closer and for longer, planning a move multiple laps in advance, pressurising the driver in front while still being able to drive consistently. Unlike previous years where drivers sometimes lost up to 70% of their downforce in dirty air, this year, they only lost around 20-30% of it.
According to Pirelli, this season has seen 30% more overtakes than 2021, which was already one of the tightest championship battles we've seen in recent years. Perhaps the best example of this is the number of overtakes at Hungary, which has often been nicknamed "Monaco without walls". The midfield was also a wild card, with the order shuffling every race! The field was much closer together in most races, which emboldened teams to try more risky strategies and try to gain any advantage they could.
The cars this year were quick in a straight line, but lacked downforce, and with bigger wheels, heavier chassis and other contributing factors, they were 1-2 seconds off the pace of previous years' cars.
The cars were much more durable this year, as evidenced by multiple incidents throughout the season. Mick Schumacher had a devastating crash during Qualifying at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and another during the race at the Monaco Grand Prix, which split the front and rear of his car in two, and that is exactly what the new regulations emphasised, as that secures the fuel tank. Charles Leclerc spun into a barrier in Imola during the final stages of the Grand Prix, but only suffered from minor front wing damage which was fixed during a pitstop, and could also continue unscathed after his collision with Lando Norris at Brazil which sent him into the barriers.
More durable cars also ensure that there are lesser DNFs, which makes the racing more exciting, and often, crashes can send top drivers tumbling down the order, giving us some great recovery drives like Max Verstappen's comeback in Brazil. The cars are also heavily reliant on the floor to generate downforce, and perhaps the best example of that was Max Verstappen losing a lot of pace in Silverstone after he had a piece of debris from the crash of the AlphaTauri's stuck under his car.
DRS has been very strong in 2022, but the FIA look to weaken it by reducing the length of DRS zones in 2023, considering drivers could really pull a significant gap while overtaking with much lower drag down the straights.
The tyres also played a key part this year, as drivers adjusted to more intensive outlaps to put heat into the tyres. Tyres are one of the variables that teams don't develop themselves, so they often push Pirelli for changes and modifications that would suit them. The lower tyre degradation also saw some valiant strategic moves by certain drivers and teams. Some of the most notable examples of tyre management this year were from Alex Albon's 57 lap stint on the hards, Kevin Magnussen pulling off a one stopper at a high degradation COTA, and Max Verstappen's medium stint at Mexico, where he maintained 1:22s for 42 laps.
The new tyres are much larger than the ones that preceded them, and with the wheel covers on them, they're much heavier too. Because of that, everyone expected the pitstops to be slower, and they were at first, ranging from anywhere around 3-4 seconds, but teams got better at it as the season progressed. Red Bull were consistently the fastest at pitstops throughout the year, whilst McLaren scored the fastest and the only sub-2 second pitstop at 1.98s.
One might look at the season's results and conclude that it was a dominant season for one team, considering they've won 17 races out of 22 races this year, and secured both the Drivers' and Constructors' championships with a few Grands Prix left to go. But that is usually bound to happen. Whenever the sport has gone a major regulation overhaul, one or two teams just ace development on their cars whilst the others are left behind. In previous years, such a dominant performance by a single team would be a harbinger of an era of domination.
Stalwarts like Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes will still have a significant advantage over other teams, as they have spent years honing their facilities with the best equipment and paying lavish sums of money to secure the best engineers to build a talented workforce. Smaller teams can simply not afford to do that. Ferrari and Mercedes built their own wind tunnels as well, and whilst Red Bull has one too, it's rather old relative to its competitors, and in need of a rehaul, as Technical Head Adrian Newey has often reiterated.
With the financial regulations and the CFD/Wind Tunnel restrictions on teams that rank higher in the constructors' standings, this advantage should slowly wither away. Teams should, in theory, be able to spend more on their factory with all the profits, and develop their resources significantly. Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point/ Force India) is already building a state of the art $200M factory near Silverstone, while McLaren is readying it's own wind tunnel, which should be operational by late 2023.
Teams like Alfa Romeo Orlen (Sauber) or Haas were under the budget cap this season, but due to more aerodynamic testing allocation, they could build cars capable of fighting in the midfield, despite being way off the pace in 2021. Both of them have had an influx of sponsors since, allowing them to be at the budget cap for 2023, which should only push them up the order. Similarly, Dorilton Capital only bought Williams because spending money on F1 would be considerably more sustainable under the budget cap.
There have been some significant drawbacks, though, things that future regulations can look at improving. The cars are much heavier and larger than before, which can often be an hindrance to racing in narrow tracks. Visibility has been significantly lower too, with over-wheel winglets (flow deflectors) and larger wheels reducing the drivers' peripheral vision. Moreover, the newer, simplified suspension mechanism is not as effective, and cars are not as comfortable over kerbs as they once were.
The biggest issue, however, has been porpoising. Christened after the aquatic mammals, the phenomenon is associated with the ground effect. As a ground effect car generates more downforce at higher speeds, its floor lowers itself to reduce drag. However, if the floor goes too low, it hits the ground, which subsequently halts any air circulation and the floor goes up having lost all its downforce, only to go down again to regain it. When this process occurs multiple times, it feels very bouncy, as if the car has springs under it. This is a simplified explanation of the phenomenon of porpoising.
The most obvious solution to absolve porpoising is raising the floor. But that comes at the cost of performance, and as F1 drivers and engineers have shown time and time over, they'd rather be uncomfortable than lose crucial performance. Baku (the Azerbaijan GP) was the worst weekend in this regard, with drivers bouncing down the long straights. Multiple drivers complained about it that weekend, as many, including Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton voiced their concerns over long term effects and the pain they had to sit through. Thus, the FIA set to work on introducing an "Aerodynamic Oscillation Metric" (AOM) that set a maximum permissible limit on how much a car could porpoise.
Spray has also been a significant issue at multiple wet races this year, notably Japan. Whilst F1 has received a lot of criticism for not racing on it's full wet tyres (which can displace upto 85 Litres per second at 300 kph), some of it has been irrational since the spray generated by ground effect and the tyres can reduce visibility to an extreme extent, which is very unsafe. The F1 commission has since looked into addressing this problem. They aim to study the usage of wheel arches to reduce spray by the tyres without hindering pitstops, exclusive devices specifically attached during wet weather and additional lights on the car to increase visibility. Since the 2022 cars produce most of their downforce from ground effect, they also plan to analyze the contribution of the underfloor tunnels to the spray generated by the cars. For now, this is just research, but some of this could significantly materialise in the future.
With the budget cap in place, teams had to balance how much they could spend developing the car during the winter and how much they wanted to develop throughout the season. This was made apparent by the number of upgrades teams brought to multiple Grands Prix over the season.
As this was the final year before the engine freeze, it was imperative that the teams finalise every bit of performance-centric development in the off-season. Different PU suppliers took different approaches. Mercedes focused on reliability, while Ferrari and Alpine, who were both severely lacking in performance focused on making the fastest possible power units, leaving reliability development for future seasons as those upgrades are not restricted by the freeze. Honda seemed to have found a balance between the two.
Ferrari Power Units had a lot of reliability issues across their customer teams, perhaps even jeopardising their drivers out of title contention with DNFs throughout the year. Alpine's Power Units are only used by their work team, and they were marred by reliability issues throughout the year, right from the beginning at pre-season testing in Barcelona, where Fernando Alonso's car went up in flames, which would continue to be a pattern throughout the season, especially on his side of the garage. He also had multiple issues with ERS throughout the season, most notably at Canada and Monza. Red Bull (with HRC power units) had a double DNF at Bahrain due to reliability issues, and one at Australia, but seemed to have developed their way out of their issues. Their customer team AlphaTauri also faced some issues early on, but they sorted those out as well.
However, it was really nice to see that, for the first time in a while, nearly all teams were at engine parity, with Alpine only slightly behind their competitors. Ferrari did have a 20-30 HP advantage over their rivals when they could run their power unit at full power, but that was often not the case as they were marred by reliability. Despite that, their advantage was nowhere near the level of dominance shown by the 2014 Mercedes Power Unit.
Considering the near-engine-parity this season, aerodynamics made the most difference out on the track in terms of performance. Despite some of the most prescriptive regulations in F1 history, there was a lot of variance between the approaches teams took and the results they achieved. As the teams arrived in Bahrain, Red Bull and Ferrari looked much quicker than the Mercedes. It was a radical change for all 3 teams in terms of concepts, with Red Bull going for a low downforce car while Ferrari and Mercedes went for high downforce designs, contrary to what they had been running in previous years.
Mercedes, in their own words, assumed they could run the car on deck, which means that they thought they could run the car extremely low, nearly sealed to the ground, similar to the ground effect cars of yore. However, with the much weaker simplified suspension mechanism this year and the incessant porpoising, they simply couldn't achieve that. They seemed to minimise the effect of porpoising by Spain, but many race tracks, especially street tracks, have extremely uneven surfaces. While they were praised for the innovation with their vertical sidepods concept which would help reduce drag, they were still heavily marred by it, suffering on many low downforce tracks throughout the season.
Moreover, their focus on reliability over performance was perhaps a wrong one, as they were not near the engine power of the Ferraris, and that can't be fixed in the current regulations, due to the development freeze. But it did pay off for them in some regards as they could nab points and podiums when their rivals had reliability issues. They tried various experimental setups and upgrades throughout the year, including double stays at Canada, and front wing slot gap separators at COTA, both of which they could not run at the Grands Prix, and were outlawed for 2023.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, in an interview with Tom Clarkson for the Beyond the Grid podcast, said that the team is looking to rehaul parts of the car for 2022, and said that none of their problems could be attributed to the vertical "zero" sidepods design that raised eyebrows at the end of the season.
Ferrari spent a lot of effort on their PU overhaul working with their fuel and lubrication partner Shell to maximise the performance out of the newly introduced E10 fuel. While they arguably had the fastest PU on the grid, it was marred by reliability, both for their works team and their customers team. Ferrari had a possible championship contender early on in the season, but they shot themselves in the foot with strategy, communication etc. Their car was notorious for its porpoising, but it was fast despite the issue. They lacked pace in a straight line compared to the Red Bulls, however, and that was a big issue for them in the early part of the season before being affected by TD039, the subsequent AOM, and having to turn their engines down so that they wouldn't blow up. They halted development after Singapore, presumably because they had spent much more during the winter, and shifted their focus to the next year as both championships slipped out of their hands. RaceDebrief.com has a complete article over Ferrari's disastrous season despite having what seemed like a championship winning car. Read it here.
Oracle Red Bull Racing
Red Bull seemed to have the best car out of the pack, evidenced by a rather dominant season, having won 17 out of 22 Grands Prix this year. However, it was not an easy start to the year after their reliability issues early on, but as Christian Horner said after the Australian GP, he'd rather have an unreliable quick car than a reliable slow one. They did not have any other reliability issues after that. It was not a very dominant run like Mercedes in the early turbo hybrid era, as Red Bull had a challenger in Ferrari. However, the Red Bull Racing team worked much better together, with strategy, development and drivers in tandem, securing their best result as a team in recent history. Hungary is perhaps the best example of the team's work on strategy, while Belgium is the best example of the team's car. They seemed to achieve a balance between a high performance power unit and a reliable one. They went for a lower downforce car this year, a radical choice considering the current crop of cars already lack downforce relative to last year.
Red Bull had some porpoising, but much lesser than their competitors. They were quite innovative with their sidepod and floor concept. It was not really a surprise, as their Chief Technical Officer, the legendary Adrian Newey, wrote this first thesis on the implementation of ground effect in sports cars and has had quite a substantial amount of experience with the phenomenon. They had one of the most efficient designs too, as their car was rarely held back by drag. They also found a great balance in brake cooling and front tyre warmup, compared to the quickly heating, quickly degrading tyres of the Ferrari or the slow warmup (and therefore slow qualifying) tyres of the Mercedes. This has been covered in great detail by Mark Hughes and Giorgio Piola in this article. Despite some trouble like their DRS issues in Spain and their team orders debacle in Brazil (read the RaceDebrief.com analysis here) and the controversy around the 2021 budget cap breach (which brings their wind tunnel time for 2023 down to 63%), Red Bull showed why they are a team with multiple championships.
McLaren was marred by brake issues during pre-season testing, and despite being the team with the least porpoising during the tests at Barcelona, they were generally off the pace this season, struggling to keep up with their rivals for P4 in the constructors', Alpine. However, a magnificent drive by Lando in Imola helped them score the only podium that was not by the top 3 teams. Their car was too draggy throughout the season, and a poor season for Daniel Ricciardo didn't help.
Alpine had an extremely unreliable power unit that suffered from engine failures, cooling failures and ERS issues, but they hope to fix that. The aerodynamic upgrades they brought to their car were consequential though, as they saw significant performance improvements with each modification to their original concept, which bodes well for their 100 Grand Prix plan to challenge for race wins and championships.
Alfa Romeo Orlen (Sauber)
Alfa Romeo started the year well, with the lightest car on the grid, which gave them quite a performance advantage combined with the new, more powerful Ferrari PU. While they did have some good races at the start of the year, even challenging Mercedes on the odd day, they were largely out of contention after Canada, affected by Ferrari's unreliable power unit, and probably even because of their gearbox. Alfa Romeo (Sauber) has started reducing their reliance on Ferrari parts as they started producing many parts themselves, including the gearbox. However, having learnt the lessons they did this year, they will probably have better luck with it in 2023. The self-reliance will also help Sauber propel itself as it works on becoming Audi Sauber (Audi's works team) in 2023.
Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant
Aston Martin has been vying for championship contention in the future as well, with their shiny new $200M factory at Silverstone and a new wind tunnel of their own, as they also poached engineers from various top teams like Mercedes and Red Bull, perhaps most notably Dan Fallows, previously the head of aerodynamics at the Red Bull Racing. They started out the season with a fairly slow car, but it was essentially a placeholder for another concept that they'd introduce in Spain, which looked suspiciously similar to the Red Bull RB18, being a centre of controversy reminiscent of the "Pink Mercedes" scandal in 2020 from the same team.
However, an investigation by the FIA later revealed that Aston Martin surprisingly had the concept in the wind tunnel since November 2021. Aston Martin's development throughout the year was a tad bit chaotic, as they often went with really innovative concepts that didn't really completely work with the package. Some parts of their floor design were instantly copied by rival teams too. They also brought a controversial, innovative rear wing to the Hungarian GP that would create much more downforce but also much more outwash. While the FIA allowed them to use it for the rest of the season, they have outlawed it for 2023. However, the team seem to be in a good place to capitalise on their current development.
Having scored zero points and being firmly at the back of the field throughout 2021 to focus on 2022 with their much higher wind tunnel allocation, Haas brought quite an advanced car to pre-season testing, and it was a good racecar too, as evidenced by their P5 finish in Bahrain that paved the way to a good early season for them. Their development was somewhat affected by Mick Schumacher's rather expensive crashes at Jeddah and Monaco, which split the car in two. However, mid-season development has never been Haas' strong suit and they lost a lot of performance throughout the season, not helped by Ferrari's PU reliability or Kevin Magnussen's lap 1 shenanigans when they qualified well. They brought one substantial upgrade later in the season, dubbed the "White Ferrari" due to its similarity with the F1-75, but the car was quite off the pace. Haas has since hired F1 veteran Nico Hulkenberg to replace Mick Schumacher as they secured Moneygram as a title sponsor for 2023 to bring themselves up to the budget cap, and they'll also benefit from the extra money they earn after securing P8.
After battling for 5th in the constructors' with Alpine in 2021, it was a disappointing year for Scuderia AlphaTauri as they fell all the way down to P9 in the constructors' championship, having a car that was simply too slow on most days to secure any points.
Williams brought a car with very little downforce this year. While it was extremely quick on the straights, it lost a huge chunk of laptime in the corners which ultimately segregated them to a P10 finish in the constructors, lower than where they finished next year. They did bring a new spec to Silverstone, but that did not perform very well either. Alex Albon complained about extreme tyre degradation while following another car, and about the car's volatility in the wind.
However, they have the most wind tunnel time of any team for next season, which they can hopefully capitalise on. A poor year from Nicholas Latifi didn't help, but Williams will be hoping for a better result from his replacement, Logan Sargeant. It was not very surprising however, considering Williams technical boss Francois-Xavier Demaison made no secret of the fact that the team was not fully prioritising the 2022 car, the FW44.
The biggest issue with a regulation change as big as this one is that there will always be a delay in development for teams up and down the grid that didn't quite figure their car out yet, including Mercedes who came into the season with title ambitions before being relegated to fixing the issues their car faced, giving teams that nailed their concept time to extend their advantage.
While not the "perfect" set of regulations that we'd have wanted, the first year of the regulations did shake up the grid a bit, but perhaps not as drastically as we'd have hoped. Teams were much closer than previous seasons, and every team secured points within the first handful of races, which is a rare sight. While the results won't tell the whole story, there was a lot of action throughout the year. With Red Bull facing a 7% reduction in Wind Tunnel allocation for 2023, they will have to use their resources efficiently as their competitors work on catching up. Hopefully, 2023 brings the field closer together and ensures a multi-team, multi-driver championship battle like 2010 or 2012.
Since you've read till here, dear reader, here's an interesting factoid. Early into the formulation of the new regulations, the technical commission considered getting rid of front wings altogether, before ultimately deciding against it. However, teams have run cars without front wings in the past, most notably in 1982, during the peak of ground effect aerodynamics.
To read up more on the topics, I encourage you to explore the following resources:
- FIA Formula One Regulations
- Boston Downloads' Article on CFD restrictions
- Real Engineering's video on F1 innovations, including ground effect.
- Significant changes to the regulations for 2023.
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