The Formula One 2022 season saw a change in the car design regulations more sweeping than in a generation. Some teams designs have struggled with the new ‘ground effect’ concept where downforce is obtained from the negative air pressure under the floor. The advantage of reducing aerodynamic downforce from the top of the car means its easier for the new breed of cars to follow and overtake.
Mercedes 2022 design has been troublesome with the car seen to be ‘porpoising’ or bouncing in an extreme fashion. Their driver George Russell, who is also the director of the drivers’ association has been most vocal calling for the FIA to change the regulations.
Following scenes in Baku which depicted a ‘broken’ Lewis Hamilton struggling to climb from his car following the race, the FIA issues a technical directive with a view to measuring the veridical oscillations of the cars and restricting this to a standard metric.
In a bizarre twist, the FIA discovered there was a loophole in their regulations over how the floor and the skid plank flexed. Certain teams were meeting the letter of the law ut the plank in particular was flexing more than the intended regulation had hoped.
These teams were suffering less bouncing so the rational thing to do would surely be to legitimise properly this flexibility so the other teams suffering from the bouncing could modify their designs accordingly.
But no. The FIA has now stiffened the regulation and the ‘trickery’ where the skid plank and the floor meet to bring the cars into compliance with their original intentions.
These rules will come into force at the Belgium GP. Yet the bouncing issue has now disappeared as Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto observed at the recent Austrian GP.
“[It] was not an issue in Silverstone, it has not been here a subject in Austria, for [any] of us. I’m pretty sure it will not be in the next two races.”
Prior to a meeting this week of F1’s technical advisory committee a number of teams requested the new directive be dropped, though Mercedes were believed to have pushed for a continuance.
Following the meeting the FIA issued this statement.
“The FIA reaffirmed its strong commitment to reduce and hopefully eliminate the issue in the near term, as it is considered to be a significant safety matter,”
“It is the responsibility and the prerogative of the FIA to intervene for safety matters, and the reason the regulations allow such measures to be taken is precisely to allow decisions to be taken without being influenced by the competitive position each team may find themselves in,”
The FIA believes the recent lack of bouncing is circuit specific and will press ahead will the technical directive which should benefit Mercedes.
Further, under safety grounds which requires no agreement from the teams F1’s sport’s governing body is set to change the design regulations for 2023 aswell.
Two changes will alter the cars’ design. Firstly the floor edges will be raised by 25mm and secondly the under-floor diffuser throat will also be raised.
Given the Mercedes car looks ugly when running lower to the car this clearly gives them an advantage.
However, the irony of this victory may see them continue to pursue the current car design philosophy which expert commentators believe is flawed.
The whole point of the new car design regulations was to enable the cars to obtain more downforce from ground effect and less from rear wing downforce. If the new 2023 regulations reduce the ability of the teams to deliver this, then the result will be cars 2 seconds a lap quicker struggling to follow a slower car closely and losing front downforce, wearing out their tyres.
De ja Vu.
There is a glimmer of hope as teams will have one final opportunity to petition against the new regulations.
“These measures will be submitted to the World Motor Sport Council for consideration and approval shortly as it is vital for the Formula 1 teams to have clarity of the regulations to which to design their cars,” the FIA said.
Given the teams are about to begin designing their 2023 evolutions of the current cars, the ambiguity of the FIA’s position is unhelpful. However, thus far Mercedes have refused to change their ‘sidepodless’ car design despite being no closer to the leaders than they were in Bahrain.
A commitment to developing this design further could see the 8 times constructors’ champions pursue a path that has the inevitable consequence of failure.