Formula One’s new rule changes explained
The FIA will introduce a major overhaul of its technical regulations in 2022.
By Maximilian Merkel
The changes, intended to allow cars to run more closely together and aid overtaking, have been discussed for several years. The new rules were originally due for introduction in 2021. However, following the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the decision was taken to postpone their introduction as a cost-saving measure. They focus on the aspect of aerodynamics and change the way following cars are affected by the disturbed air from the car in front. F1 teams use aerodynamics to press the cars firmer to the ground with help of airflow, thus, increasing grip while cornering. This is what is referred to as ‘downforce’.
However, the car in front punches a ‘hole’ in the air, leaving the car behind with less air to produce downforce. This impacts the cars’ ability to overtake on track, as the cars behind cannot closely follow each other without losing a significant amount of time through corners and overheating their tires due to less grip and more sliding around. In the 2021 season, the loss of downforce was estimated to be 35% when traveling within three car lengths of the car in front and up to 50% loss while traveling only a single car length behind. The FIA claims that these numbers will drop significantly to 4% and 18% respectively, which would enable drivers to have closer and longer battles on track.
But how exactly do these new rules seek to achieve that? Firstly, and most significantly, the 2022 cars will feature a ground-effect floor, a feature that was previously banned. The cars will have two long underfloor tunnels which create a 'ground effect', meaning there is more suction under the car to pull it to the tarmac, while also ensuring more of the downforce is generated from under the car. This reduces the degree of air disturbance behind the car as air isn’t primarily shot up over but guided under it. Secondly, a simplified front and rear wing design was developed to narrow the airflow and ‘dirty air’ behind the cars, also to reduce the negative effect on following cars.
Additionally, the 2022 cars will feature 18-inch tyres with wheel covers and winglets, a notable departure from the 13-inch wheels which have been in use since the 1980s. This is to address issues like overheating, disturbed airflow, and grip inconsistency and will help in defining the drivers as the centre of attention rather than the tyres and pit-stop strategies.
To complement the radically new design and sleek look of this new generation of race cars, the teams have come up with a beautiful set of liveries. I cannot remember the last time I felt like no single car on the grid was either ugly, boring, or simply unaesthetic. After removing their title sponsor and Russian flag design, maybe even Haas will look sleek and sophisticated.
Should these changes achieve their desired effects, we should see a season defined not by stewards’ enquiries and pit-stops, but by the drivers, as it should be.