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Rule changes explained, regulations, cars, budget cap, restrictions, aerodynamics, Mercedes vs Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo

The 2022 Formula One season is already almost upon us and promises to usher in an era for the category that will look like never before.

This year will feature the biggest overhaul to F1’s regulations since the last major re-imagining of cars 40 years ago.

F1 engineer extraordinaire Adrian Newey described this as “an enormous change” that will touch virtually every component of car performance.

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“The only thing that really stays the same is the power unit. Everything else is different,” Newey said on the Talking Bull podcast last year.

The changes are primarily aimed at entertaining fans while also reducing costs and forging a more even competition.

They are the result of four years of painstaking work between F1, the FIA, teams and experts.

“This is the start of a new journey, a new philosophy, a new culture, where the raceability of these cars is going to be vital to future Formula 1,” managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn said.

“And why do we do that? We do that because we want to entertain the fans, we want to engage the fans, we want new fans to come into the sport.

“We want to respect and maintain our existing fans so they remain excited about the pinnacle of motorsport.”

The 2022 concept car was put through approximately 7,500 simulations, producing half a petabyte of data, or the equivalent of 10 billion Facebook photos.

Below is not an exhaustive list of the new regulations, but a summary of the key changes that will have the biggest influence on F1 in 2022.

Others not mentioned below include a freeze on power units until 2026, the use of more sustainable fuel and safety changes.

GROUND-EFFECT RETURN

Underbody tunnels on the floors of cars were banned in 1982, but they’re back.
Underbody tunnels on the floors of cars were banned in 1982, but they’re back.Source: Getty Images

What is the change?

Underbody tunnels on the floors of cars were banned in 1982, but they’re back.

The reason is because in lieu of underbody tunnels, teams have – with better and more devastating effect with every passing year – used the car’s bodywork to create more downforce instead.

This has led primarily to the development of more complex front and rear wing designs, end plates and bargeboards, while some other devices – such as McLaren’s infamous F-duct in 2010 – have been banned.

In 2022, cars will feature drastically simplified bodywork and once again rely heavily on the floor to generate downforce instead.

What does it mean?

To understand why teams have pushed the envelope, throwing tens of billions of dollars at research and development in this area since underbody tunnels were banned, we need to understand the importance of downforce.

F1 vehicles are designed like reverse aeroplanes: The faster they go, the more they are sucked into the ground. In other words, the stronger a car’s aerodynamic downforce is, the faster it can go around middle-to-high speed corners, thus gaining crucial time.

Slow-speed corners are a matter of mechanical grip, which pertains to suspension and tyres (more on tyres later).

The trade-off of increasingly sophisticated bodywork in the pursuit of downforce, however, is the phenomenon known as turbulent, or ‘dirty’, air.

The more aerodynamic downforce a car generates, the more it creates a wake that disturbs the air behind it. In turn, the effectiveness of the trailing car’s aerodynamics is diminished.

This is why you will often see a fast car easily catch a slower one when in clear air, only to then find it exceedingly difficult to actually pass.

One engineer involved in the technical changes said ‘dirty’ air leads to a “catastrophic downforce loss”. Research last year showed that cars lose 35 per cent of downforce when three car lengths – about 20 metres – behind a leading car.

F1 has taken drastic measures to reduce the effect of ‘dirty’ air.Source: Getty Images

Formula One’s solution in 2011 was to create the Drag Reduction System (DRS) – which is effectively an overtaking aid. When DRS is available, a driver can open a flap in the car’s rear wing to reduce its level of downforce, and therefore go faster in a straight-line to execute an overtake.

It’s a band-aid solution, at best, and one considered to be artificial by many drivers and racing enthusiasts alike.

Which brings us back to the underbody tunnels. The science behind them is complex.

The short of it is that through channelling the passing air in a very particular way, a suction underneath the car can be created, thus generating downforce with a reduced wake.

With underbody tunnels back, cars must remove bargeboards completely, front wings will be simplified to feature only four elements, while the endplates are single-piece. The rear wing will be virtually without an endplate at all.

Wheel covers will also return and feature a deflector to assist with minimising wake.

In even shorter terms, it simply means this: Expect better, more close-quarters racing between cars in 2022 onwards.

Who does it suit?

Apart from the fans, teams with lesser resources.

Given many teams share power unit suppliers, it’s often in the area of aerodynamics that resource-rich teams, such as Red Bull and Mercedes, excel above the rest.

Investing in this area is incredibly expensive, which is why it’s been 12 seasons since either Mercedes or Red Bull have failed to win the championship.

Of course, the stronger teams don’t simply just throw money at problems. They also deploy the best and brightest minds who regularly find genius solutions to complex problems, and exploit gaps in the rules to make faster cars.

They will do so again.

But while it’s unlikely to suddenly see the likes of Haas competing at the front end, simplifying bodywork at least helps restrict the amount of areas in which the top teams can gain an advantage.

It will also work in the favour of the better drivers and more savvy overtakers, such as Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull’s pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc or Mercedes new boy George Russell, who are all noted attacking forces.

Those who excel in the craft of overtaking will, in theory, have their shackles removed with less ‘dirty’ air to contend with.

Ricciardo will no doubt be licking his lips, while it could leave those lesser versed in the art of wheel-to-wheel racing exposed. Valtteri Bottas is one name who’s not known as an accomplished overtaker, while some even doubt seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton’s own skills, although that’s merely because he’s led so many races from the front.

Furthermore, teams with drivers experienced in car development also stand to benefit. They don’t come much more experienced in the field than Ricciardo, who played a key role in development at Red Bull, Renault and now McLaren. Fernando Alonso and Hamilton’s experience will also be a big boost for Alpine and Mercedes respectively.

BIGGER TYRES

Tyres will increase in size from 13 inches to a new low-profile, 18 inch.Source: Getty Images

What is the change?

There are actually multiple relating to tyres in 2022.

The biggest and most obvious is an increase in size from 13 inches to a new low-profile, 18 inch.

Additionally, front tyres can only be heated in the garages up to 70 degrees C – a 30 per cent drop. Rear tyres can only be heated to the same temperature, down from 80C.

What does it mean?

To state the obvious; colder tyres for drivers when leaving the garage.

That will create an extra two-fold challenge in 2022: Firstly, to contend with tyres that aren’t at optimal temperature when leaving the pits, and secondly, to get them up to temperature as quick as possible.

Cold tyres are a driver’s worst enemy as they need to be at a certain temperature to provide the most grip.

The heating restrictions will, in theory, create more challenging out-laps from the pits, offering an extra opportunity for the cream to rise to the top.

Out-laps will become more challenging in 2022.Source: Getty Images

Furthermore, the heating restrictions, new Pirelli compounds and a bigger tyre aim to reduce overheating.

Overheating leads to rapid disintegration of tyres and, in turn, less close racing between cars.

The changes mean drivers should be able to push harder for longer, and go for more overtakes rather than enduring lengthy periods of tyre management due to overheating tyres.

Less heating in the garages also means a lower carbon footprint for F1.

Who does it suit?

This is a massive boost for the more assertive drivers in the field.

Once again, Ricciardo falls under this category along with the Red Bull garage and a number of other stars.

While Ricciardo’s one-lap speed has been hot-and-cold in the past, his ability to out-brake his rivals and go racing wheel-to-wheel is a major strength.

Overheating tyres neuter those powers, so this should be seen as a major positive for Ricciardo and other drivers of a similar ilk.

BUDGET CAP REDUCTION

The budget cap will slide further in attempt to restrict the top teams.Source: Getty Images

What is the change?

There will be a further step down in the budget cap which was introduced last year, and will continue to slide.

In 2022, the cap on teams is $140m USD ($196m AUD), down $5m USD from 2021.

There is, however, a technicality that allows teams to spend an extra $1.2m USD for every race over 21 in a season.

The 2022 calendar has been slated for 23 races, meaning the cap is officially at $142.4m USD ($199.6m AUD).

The figure will reduce by another $5m USD from 2023, where it will settle unless inflation is over three per cent.

What does it mean?

While the budget cap was introduced last year, 2022 is the first time we will learn how much it has really influenced the competition.

That’s because last year’s cars were largely developed in 2020 when there was no cap, while planning for 2022 ramped up last year when there was.

The thinking behind it is simple; to put a leash on the rich and powerful to give the little guys a fighting chance.

Most of Europe’s top-flight football competitions don’t have a spend cap, and the many are dominated by the few.

F1 has been the same, which owner Liberty Media agrees is far from ideal for its plans to grow the competition into new markets – namely America.

Red Bull and Mercedes have been unstoppable for over a decade.Source: Getty Images

The budget cap is also aimed at providing greater long-term financial sustainability for teams, and incentive to stay in the competition.

There are, however, some key exclusions from the cap which will allow the richest teams to still have the upper hand.

The cap only pertains to the design, development, and operation of cars.

Crucially, it doesn’t include driver contracts, bonuses, the salaries of a team’s three-highest paid employees, marketing costs and utility bills.

When all things are considered, there are teams who won’t even be able to touch the $140m USD cap on car performance, even if they wanted to.

Who does it suit?

As explained above, this is a win of sorts for the smaller teams.

Time will tell whether the cap is strict enough to reign in the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull.

The technicalities of the cap mean it’s extremely unlikely to see a Haas or Williams challenging for a podium, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.

AERODYNAMIC TESTING RESTRICTIONS

Time in wind tunnels will be restricted for the top teams.Source: Getty Images

What is the change?

The budget cap isn’t the only sliding scale in F1 at the moment.

So is the allocation of aerodynamic testing for teams, based on where they placed in the most recent constructors’ championship. The allocations are then reassessed on June 30.

In 2021, fifth place in the constructors’ standings was the benchmark for testing time. From there, teams placed higher were allocated less aerodynamic testing time, and teams placed lower were given more.

Based on the 2021 scale, first place had 90 per cent testing time compared to the benchmark, while last had 112.5 per cent.

There will be a far greater discrepancy between first and last in 2022.

First place will only have 70 per cent aerodynamic testing time, and last place will have 115 per cent.

What does it mean?

In a way, this goes hand-in-hand with the budget cap as an attempt to curb the dominance of the best teams.

This new policy takes from the rich and gives to the (not so) poor.

Aerodynamic testing is a crucial part of the car development process, as new parts are put to the test in wind tunnels and using computational fluid dynamics (CFD); a tool used to predict airflow.

The testing of parts can translate to crucial time gained on the track.

As it probably sounds, it’s an expensive process.

There was once no restriction on aerodynamic testing, meaning top teams could run it all day long while the weaker teams scrimped for a few hours.

2022 features the harshest restrictions on aerodynamic testing yet.

Similar to the cap, the changes aren’t expected to abolish the gap between the front and the back alone. There’s also the possibility that a team with a 115 per cent allocation doesn’t have the funds to use it all.

Nonetheless, F1 head of aerodynamics Jason Somerville said “it’s very unlikely you will not see a closing of the grid” over the course of a few seasons.

Who does it suit?

You just need to take a look at last season’s constructors’ standings to work this one out.

Mercedes came first and will start with just a 70 per cent allocation, 45 per cent less than Haas, who came last.

Ninth was Alfa Romeo, followed by Williams, Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri, while the baseline is Alpine-Renault.

Second was Red Bull, followed by Ferrari and McLaren.



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