Nytt år, samma bil?

Inför varje säsong presenterar teamen en ny bil. Inför 2021 kommer inte allt på bilen att vara helt nytt med anledning av pandemin

Inför varje säsong presenterar teamen en ny bil. Inför 2021 kommer inte allt på bilen att vara helt nytt med anledning av pandemin

Nytt år, ny säsong framför oss. Normalt är det full fart inför en ny säsong med iordningställande av den nya bilen. Omkring 95 procent av den nya bilen brukar vara helt helt nytt men som alla känner till är världen allt annat än normal just nu. Formel 1 tvingades, precis som de flesta andra branscher, göra vissa justeringar där bl a införandet av det helt nya reglementet inför 2021 flyttades fram ett år. Istället bestämdes, i grova drag, att samma bil skulle användas både 2020 och 2021. Nu är detta en sanning med modifikation, en hel del av det tekniska reglementet är fruset men trots detta finns tämligen stort utrymme för teamen att förbättra sina bilar, hur stort bad jag Scott Mitchell om hjälp med att reda ut. 

Formula 1 cars in 2021 will have a lot of similarities to their 2020 predecessors but there is still scope for quite a lot of change in key performance areas.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, F1 teams agreed last year to postpone new technical rules from 2021 to 2022. Development work for the new rules was also suspended until January 1, 2021. This would stop teams spending a lot of money at a time of global crisis and uncertainty about F1’s revenue.

To facilitate this, teams agreed for large parts of their 2020 cars to be frozen and carried over to 2021. Here, we explain what the restrictions are and what teams are still able to develop.

For 2021, the teams are limited in what they can do in terms of upgrading the car, what does the rules state is allowed?

Normally every car is overhauled from year-to-year even if the rules are stable. The cockpit and everything around it get a refresh: even if it’s not necessarily performance reasons there are always little tweaks here and there that can improve the integrity of mechanical components. Weight-saving or reliability gains can follow.

However, for 2021 there are limitations for the major architectural parts of the car, governed by strict deadlines. There are three sets of homologated parts: “R1-2020”, “Mid-2020” and “R1-2021”. This determines when their specifications were frozen.

“R1-2020” relates to the specification the parts were in for the first round of 2020. The deadline to inform the FIA of planned changes was a few days after the shutdown. It includes the survival cell, rear impact structure, gearbox, several brake components, the fuel and hydraulic systems and small items like the pedals, fire extinguisher and radio.

“Mid-2020” is early in the 2020 season. Teams had until July 22, shortly after the start of the season, to tell the FIA if they wanted to change anything. Front impact structure, DRS, brake discs and inboard front/rear suspension all fall under this definition.

“R1-2021” means teams are free to amend this specification until the opening round of 2021. Gear ratios, driveshafts, front and rear suspension members and upright assembly and steering components are all free to be amended until the 2021 season opener.

How many tokens can every team use?

Two. But different parts have a different ‘price’.

For example, if a team wanted to change the specification of their survival cell, or the gearbox, or the suspension at either axle, that would cost two tokens. No other major changes could be made.

But the front floor structure only costs one token. So, the team would also be allowed to make another change that only costs one token, like the brake master cylinder.

If the teams did not notify the FIA of their intention to modify the components by the deadlines outlined above, then they will be racing with the same specification of component in 2021 as they did at the start of the 2020 season.

The one team exempt from this is McLaren. It is the only team switching engines in 2021, from Renault to Mercedes, and therefore has to make changes to the rear of the car to house the engine. Though the rules mandate some specifics around the engine mounting requirements the shape and design of the power units do differ and also different engines have different cooling requirements.

To accommodate this McLaren can make any necessary change to facilitate the engine change but has to sacrifice its tokens to do so. That means no other focused upgrades within the token system, although the engine change itself should breed more performance. Plus, as aero changes are free, some of the packaging can be changed to accommodate different radiator shapes, for example.

The, so called, B-teams or customer teams are in a bit of a different situation, depending on what configuration they ran last year. They seem to have a bit more freedom?

This is related to teams that run year-old components. At times last year it got called a loophole, but it wasn’t. It was agreed in the first batch of revised 2021 rules when the championship agreed to carry over so many parts.

Basically, some teams – Racing Point (now Aston Martin), AlphaTauri, Haas – maximise F1’s rules around ‘non-listed’ parts. Which means they buy as many components from Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari respectively as the rules allow.

These teams have a choice: they can either purchase the same-year components as their supplier or year-old versions. The older, the cheaper. Last year, Racing Point and AlphaTauri definitely had the 2019 Mercedes and Red Bull rear suspension, for example.

The rules state that if these customer teams were running the up-to-date specification in 2020, they would need to use their development tokens to upgrade the part to the 2021 specification for this year – assuming of course that their supplier chose to upgrade the part (as that is also determined by the new token system).

However, if teams were running a year-old specification in 2020, they would be allowed to upgrade to the 2020 version for 2021 without spending their tokens.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that it would be unfair to punish a team by forcing them to run a component that would be two years old in 2021, when they have made their plans around that part being phased out.

The second is that the supplying teams, in this case Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have a detailed production plan for such parts. In spring 2020, these teams would have expected to be supplying 2020 components to their customers in 2021: not still supplying 2019 components. So their design and manufacturing programmes would have ceased work on the 2019 parts and made more of the 2020 version.

It would cost more money to revive the 2019 production than make a few more of the 2020 components as planned.

Is any part of the car free to upgrade?

Anything not explicitly listed by the FIA is, presumably, exempt from the token system.

Aerodynamic changes are also unlimited, which is necessary because the rules have been changed to amend the rear of the floor.

This is designed to reduce downforce and limit the loading placed on Pirelli’s tyres, which are fundamentally still the same as they were in 2019. They have been reinforced but not to the same degree as year-on-year car development.

How about the engine?

The engines are now subject to tighter development restrictions but there is scope for the designs to change in the off-season.

Manufacturers were not allowed to develop their power units after the opening round of 2020 but they may introduce a new specification of every major component between the end of the 2020 season and the end of the 2021 season.

This almost certainly means all four manufacturers will introduce upgraded power units for the start of 2021. Ferrari and Honda definitely will. It makes sense to.

Once upgraded though, the engine specification is set. In theory it will be free to be upgraded again between the end of 2021 and the end of 2022 – but as you are probably aware there are discussions over an early engine freeze as part of Red Bull’s bid to take over Honda’s engine project after this season.