Alfa Romeo Technical Director Jan Monchaux reveals how the development of a whole new car generation begins, where the biggest problems lie with the 2022 racing cars and whether there are any major loopholes in the regulations.
In 2022, Formula 1 will be getting completely new cars. How does a basic design come about with such a completely new vehicle concept?
Monchaux: There is no longer the classic start with a blank sheet of paper. The new regulations are extremely restrictive, with well-defined boxes that are inherently very limited. Then there are regulations like crash tests, which are the basis for the chassis. In addition, Ferrari's specifications in relation to the drive unit and the new tires, of which we already have sufficient information. In addition, the F1 management is developing a car at the same time to check whether their goals, i.e. making overtaking maneuvers easier, are being met. And they share that with the teams. So there is already a clearly defined framework for a first layout. Everyone builds on that. Then the usual game of optimization with aerodynamics begins. After just a few weeks, the specialists have a concrete idea of what will make these new cars special, what will be different. A development plan is then based on this. And then the Aero iterations begin. At the same time, the design office is working specifically on the chassis and the suspensions are added. The driving dynamics department discusses the requirements with the aerodynamics department. The goals are not always in line. It takes a long time to find a reasonable compromise. The key challenges are to meet the new aero properties exactly, to get the best out of the new tires with the chassis kinematics, and then to achieve the new minimum weight, even though the cars are almost 40 kilograms heavier.
How much of the extra weight is due to the new crash regulations?
Monchaux: That's around a little more than a third. In addition, there are the tires and the rims and thus also larger brake discs. You gain a bit of weight because the baffles are gone, but not much. The 790 kilograms are a big challenge for everyone.
Are you moving in a vacuum during development because there is no reference to the past?
Monchaux: The space will only fill with air during the test drives. Before that, we can only look at our own wind tunnel data. As long as they keep getting better, it's good. Since there is only limited wind tunnel time, it is possible to miss a larger trend. We will see that in the spring of next year. It still feels good at the moment.
Will the cars slow down more like five or three seconds?
Monchaux: The first layout was five to six seconds slower including the additional weight. You have to make up for 40 kilograms first. The new petrol could cost the engines performance. We'll have to wait and see what the engine manufacturers make of it. It's hard to say how much of that you'll recoup with the Aero. I think the cut will be three seconds slower. But the world champion will probably push it in the direction of one and a half to two seconds. That's my assessment. Budget cap or not: The large teams have good people and methods to reach their goals faster than the small teams.
With all the restrictions, is there a separate group of engineers looking for loopholes in the regulations?
Monchaux: I wouldn't see it so black and white. All engineers on the car, regardless of which department, work with the regulations. It's in our DNA to see if there are opportunities for loopholes. But they are limited because the rules are very restrictive, because the F1 management helps to develop in the background to find such loopholes and because the teams close loopholes themselves together with the FIA. I don't want to rule out tricks, but nothing on the scale of a dual diffuser. It's going to be about the little things.
Is it your duty to report loopholes to the FIA?
Monchaux: That is at the discretion of the team. But it would be presumptuous to think that you invent something that no one else sees. All teams are so professional that nothing remains undiscovered. And then the risk of concealing something is quite high. If you assume that the FIA will accept the part in question and you go ahead with it in good faith, then you'll have a problem if the FIA changes their mind. Then you can undo anything that hurts especially, especially if it's conceptual stuff. That means lost time and double the costs, and nobody needs that with a cost cap. We would rather work transparently or get the okay from the FIA in advance to ensure that our interpretation is accepted. In our experience, as soon as the FIA gets the impression that something bigger could be behind it, they initially reject it.
So artificially produced aprons to seal the side panels would probably be banned?
Monchaux: I assume so. Yes, and all attachments around the ground are prohibited. I see the topic as very difficult. The cars will be 50 millimeters lower next year, and the first problem we have is that the underside of the car stays intact. We'll have to be careful with anything that lowers the car.
What is different in principle compared to the Venturi cars of the late 70s and early 80s?
Monchaux: I was born in 1978 and never really dealt with the cars of that time in detail. However, I can imagine that with today's knowledge and tools, we will no longer have to deal with many of the problems that our predecessors had to contend with. Back then, many hadn't been in a wind tunnel at all, or they were just starting to use one, and when they did, it was in a wind tunnel with a rigid floor. Today we know about the effects in all driving conditions. Back then, the engineers could only see what happened to the cars on the straights.
If the whole car develops a ground effect, the total downforce should be greater. Is this theory correct?
Monchaux: Unfortunately I left my crystal ball at home. With the 3D underbody we will probably compensate for some of the weight losses and in certain phases we will also achieve more downforce than today. Typically in the fast corners. But if the car is a little higher at low speeds, we'll probably lose downforce. The topic with how much ground clearance you drive in which phase is a very important one. Everything is completely redefined. The same applies to the spring travel.
The drivers are very positive about the 18 inch tires and that they offer more grip in slow and medium-speed corners?
Monchaux: You are currently driving current cars that have not been optimized for these tires. Let's wait and see what they say when the tires are loaded with 40 kilograms more and the aerodynamic properties are different.