F1 2021 Regulation changes: explained
With the F1 season wrapping up last weekend, the teams will have been flat out behind the scenes to maximise the performance to be gained ahead of 2021. These may not be the new breed of cars that had initially been hoped for, but that doesn’t make them any less significant, from a technical or sporting perspective.
So, with that in mind, let’s see what we can expect from Formula 1 in 2021!
There are 4 changes regarding the cars themselves for 2021. The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed teams testing full 2021 spec aerodynamic packages in order to gather early data. There is now a triangular exclusion zone in place, forcing the floor of an F1 car to now taper in at the rear, towards the inner edges of the rear wheels.
A smaller size means there’s less surface area for the floor to work the air passing under the car, leading to a reduction in downforce.
A second change to this area is a banning of the complex array of holes and slots that have adorned the edges of the floor in recent years. These manipulate the air passing through them in such a way that they seal up the floor.
This is similar to how the endplates of a conventional wing keeps the slower moving air on top of it separated from the faster moving air passing underneath. Without these, the airflows can mix, reducing the difference in air pressure across the floor, therefore cutting downforce loads again.
A similar change has been targeted with the diffuser the strakes. These are the vertical fences hanging underneath the rear of the car and they have been shortened. This has a similar effect to the floor changes, preventing the diffuser sealing its faster flowing air against the road surface as effectively, therefore reducing its ability to produce downforce.
The final aerodynamic change is much more direct. The rear brake ducts are allowed to have small aerofoils in their construction, allowing a small amount of downforce to be applied directly to the rear wheels, rather than being dampened by acting on the car’s suspension. From next year, any of these winglets in the lower half of the duct will have to be shortened by 40mm, reducing their effectiveness.
Why have the FIA made these changes?
The reason for the FIA chasing the downforce cut is due to the tyres. Pirelli will be using the same design of tyre for a third consecutive year, meaning that concerns were raised over the aerodynamic loads they would be able to withstand, as F1 naturally evolves. The changes are estimated to reduce downforce by 10%. However, the engineers will already be clawing back some of that deficit.
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Lastly, the cars will be slightly heavier, with minimum weights increasing to 749kg, whilst the power unit specifically increases to 150kg. The aim here is to prevent a spending war, as manufactures chase research and development in to highly exotic, and therefore expensive, lightweight materials.
The 2021 season will see the introduction of a long-awaited cost cap to the sport. The base figure for this year will be $145m for teams to spend on most areas of their infrastructure, based on a 21-race calendar, with adjustments made depending on the final number of races set at the start of the season.
Measures have also been put in place to prevent the copying that has been seen this year. Racing Point’s 2020 entry having used a near direct replica of Mercedes’ W10 from the previous year. From now on, teams will be limited to conventional photos and video to get an insight into a competitor’s design, rather than the use of 3D photography and scanning. The design process itself will also be much more strictly monitored by the FIA.
The changes to wind tunnel time allowances will also be in place during the off-season. The lower a team has finished in the constructors table, the greater amount of time they will be able to spend on aerodynamic research and validation. Likewise, a slight penalty is applied to the most successful teams, with 5th place being used as the datum point.
All this means that 5th place in the constructor’s championship, in this case Renault, will have an unchanged wind tunnel allowance compared to the regulated maximum. Meanwhile, champions Mercedes will be restricted to 90% of the allowance, whilst last-place finishing Williams will have 112.5%.
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Finally, in a bid to restrict car development to reduce the season’s cost on teams, a token system is being introduced. These act as an allowance on what can and cannot be developed on the car and will be used up weather a change is made to a component for performance, or not.
A team this will adversely affect more than others in the short term is McLaren. Since they are changing engine supplier, from Renault to Mercedes, the changes they will need to make to their chassis and gearbox will use these tokens up. This will mean they have highly limited options for vehicle development.