The highly anticipated new Formula 1 cars, constructed under a fresh set of technical regulations, are finally being let loose on the track this year as the sport beckons in a new era.
Allowing better wheel-to-wheel racing on the track is one of the main objectives of the new rules, as is tightening the pack so there’s more competition at the front of the field.
One of the biggest changes that has come with the fresh regulations is the return of ground effect. The hope is that a car behind will be able to follow a rival more closely through the corners, as they will be in a smoother air stream compared to previous seasons.
In the most recent Formula 1 campaigns, aerodynamics became increasingly complicated. Teams adopted their own designs, but all consisted of multiple bits sticking out from different areas of the car, creating a pool of dirty air to the car behind and resulting in a loss of downforce and increased temperatures.
But that is all set to change this season.
“It goes without saying that if you’re using the ground to generate the load and the downforce, you’re going to put less stress on the air, which is then less turbulent for the car behind,” said Aston Martin Chief Technical Officer Andrew Green.
“So, we think that’s the general plan: that the car behind will be in a much smoother air stream and will be able to follow more closely, so the racing should be more exciting.”
At pre-season testing, and indeed, at each grand prix, teams are going to be in desperate need of data in order to understand just how it needs to set-up their challengers.
But with ground effect in play, all teams will look to run their cars as close as possible to the ground, resulting in a stiffer suspension to stop them from bouncing around – akin to a go-kart, reckons Green.
“There are a few challenges with the car from an aerodynamic perspective. The fact that it’s a ground effect car means that its proximity to the ground is crucial,” he said. “The lower you can run it to the ground, the more performance you get, which you’ll roll out as a set-up that’s going to deliver the most performance. You end up with a relatively stiff car. So, to maintain that attitude, that proximity to the ground, the drivers will be driving something that is quite go-kart-like.”
The cars this year are sleeker, with a noticeable lack of devices attached to the bargeboards, which was a key area of growth in years gone by. But although the heavily complex bargeboards have now been removed, Green doesn’t expect that it will mean a drop in downforce levels compared to 2021.
“It’s a reasonable aerodynamic loss compared to the highly developed cars that we had in 2021,” he said. “These cars are now taking a few steps back, as far as development goes, with most teams having only been working on them for less than a year. The generation of cars that we’ve just finished racing had multiple years of development with their particular [aero] concept. “It’s to be expected that we’re going to take a step backwards, but I think the development slope that we’re on, and all teams will be on, means it won’t be long before they supersede the downforce levels that we saw in 2021.”