This is the biggest surprise of the new Formula 1. There have not been so many different concepts for a long time. But how is that possible with tightly knit regulations? Five reasons explain the diversity in the field.
We were really worried. During the rulemaking process, many engineers have complained that their hands are tied after 2022. That regulations with prescribed boxes and surfaces offer hardly any freedom. That the cars will only differ in color. That Formula 1 will look like a more delicate IndyCar.
After seeing all ten 2022 cars, we are reassured. There are as many concepts as there are teams. If all the cars were painted white, it would be much easier to tell them apart than last year's generation. The 2022 vintage also looks like a real Formula 1 car. Only the huge rear wing with its end plates drawn inwards looks a bit cheap and spoils the overall picture. One gets the impression that someone with power wanted to specify a futuristic form and has overshot the mark.
Copying is faster
For three years, the engineers whined to us about the straitjacket the FIA put them in. But now it turns out exactly the opposite. Did we or the engineers not understand something? Both are true. From an engineer's point of view, the new 169-page technology bible is restrictive. "They still want more freedom," scoffs at FIA technical director Nikolas Tombazis. He must know. "I used to work on the other side myself."
The last word hasn't been spoken yet. At the moment all cars have their own signature. That can be very different in a year. Once word has got around as to which path is the most promising, the concepts will quickly adapt. Faster than usual, believes Aston Martin Tecchnikchef Andy Green. All small components such as the baffles have been omitted. Now it's all about large surfaces. They are easier to copy.
However, if you misjudged the concept, you can throw away a whole season. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff does not believe that the entire car can be rebuilt from the ground up within the budget cap. Since there are so many different design directions at the moment, there is a good chance that one or the other has gambled away in a big way. Tombazis believes: "Three or four solutions can also prevail here and there."
Lots of leeway in six areas
There are five reasons why each team comes up with its own idea to start with, despite the limited freedom in the regulations. Tombazis emphasizes that the engineers were deliberately given a lot of leeway in some areas.These are the nose, the front wing, the sidepods, the engine cover, the suspension geometry and the rear wing support.
There is a standard formula for this in other places. Namely everywhere where the flow could be diverted outwards as it used to be, where air vortices could be generated in a targeted manner or turbulence could be provoked close to the ground behind the car. For this very reason, the zones under the nose, around the front wheels, the rims, the front floor panel, the cut-out around the rear wheels and parts of the rear wing are taboo for experiments. These components look practically the same on all cars. Since they don't contribute much to the overall impression, that hardly bothers you.
The new territory that Formula 1 is entering with ground effect cars and low-profile tires also makes for big differences. The engineers developed in a vacuum without data from the racetrack, without a meaningful reference to the previous year. "Nobody knew about the other, nobody could say how close his model would be to reality, nobody had a yardstick to align himself with. Only when the cars drive will the picture come together," believes McLaren Technical Director James key.
The key is in the packaging
The new variety is also particularly striking because the 2021 cars differed so little from each other. The rules were exhausted. Basically, the aerodynamics were still based on the 2009 regulations. And we had been used to the wide cars for five years. The engineers knew what worked and what didn't. The innovation therefore only took place in the details. For example on the baffles or the edges of the underbody. However, these surfaces were so complex that they all looked the same at a quick glance.
A very important point for the current individuality lies in the dimensions. The maximum wheelbase of 3,600 millimeters allows the cars to shrink in length by between five and ten centimetres. The large tunnels under the car take up space in height. It has become even more difficult to stow away all the innards. The degree to which this is achieved determines the external shapes and how far you can actually realize your aerodynamic ideas. Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto said last year with foresight: "The key to a good car is under the fairing."
New rules always fuel the spirit of innovation. For the engineers it was an extra challenge to wrest loopholes from these regulations. You may not have found large ones, but at least small ones. Mercedes and Williams shape the edges of the floor in a certain area in a wavy shape. Alfa-Sauber turns there. Obviously to generate air vortices that are supposed to seal the bottom laterally. Mercedes and Aston Martin add a sloping surface next to the cooling inlets.Haas detaches the airbox fin from the engine cover with stilts and underneath allows hot air from the engine compartment to escape through gills. That speaks for an outwash element. Vortex generators and outwash actually wanted to prevent the rulers.
Who draws the front wing joker?
Even if no car looks like the other, the design directions shown can be classified in families. There is the nose, which fully covers the front wing and is connected to the main blade. Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Alfa Romeo are among them. The other faction lets the first element stick out at the front, creating a gap between the nose and the wing. This is how Aston Martin, Alpine, McLaren and Haas do it.
On Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo, the middle part of the wing and the nose are the highest part of the front end. With Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari it's the other way around. McLaren and Alpha Tauri, the wing runs almost in one plane from the center to the end plates. Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Williams and Aston Martin mount the flaps high on the nose, but then lower them sharply towards the end plates. Mercedes and McLaren build low with the flaps on the outside and inside. The wing adjustments are misused to generate vortices. The wing profile reveals where the air is directed towards the underbody.
There are also different categories for the side boxes. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Alpha Tauri have them long and wide, but differ in the undercut. At Mercedes, Williams and McLaren, the side box quickly contracts to a narrow waist after a mighty bulge around the cooling inlet. The many bumps and dents in the outer skin of the new Silver Arrow indicate that a tailor-made suit was made here. Ferrari and Aston Martin left more room to react. In case wide sidepods are not the match winner after all.
Long and short sidepods
The engine cover is also a playground for ideas. McLaren and Williams copied from last year's Alpine with their powerful airbox and sloping sides, while Mercedes remains true to itself with its strongly contoured bespoke suit. With the stepped phasing out of the sidepods, Alpha Tauri and Alpine bring an element into play that was seen in the 2020 Racing Point upgrade. With its two-part air box, Alfa-Sauber is taking a different approach.
The teams with the large sidepods and the late indentation in the rear wanted to place the diffuser tunnels under the fairing if possible so that they didn't disturb the flow on the floor panel. On the other hand, with the Mercedes or the Williams, you can see exactly how these tunnels are formed underneath the car. The top of the floor gives it away.
The cooling inlets are the hallmark of the front view. No one is like the other. Alpine has the smallest, Williams has the largest.More interesting, however, is where the air is released again. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Alpine and Haas do it early via gills, others need to open the fairing more at the back. Other teams who didn't want to reveal their cards at the presentation will certainly follow with the gill solution in Barcelona.
The rear wing itself differs mainly in the number of stilts, its DRS mechanism and the main blade. Mercedes, Williams, Alpine and McLaren base the wing on one beam, the others on two. Some teams play with main blade thickness to gain more latitude in wing profile. But that was certainly not the last word. We're excited to see what's actually on board when the cars test the emergency in Barcelona this week.