Formula One has been working hard to improve the competition amongst the teams and level the playing field. Whilst it may appear at present that the opposite has in fact occurred due to Red Bull’s dominance, some of the measures are a slow burn and will take a few seasons to work their way through.
A number of the traditionally ‘less well off’ teams have structural deficits they need to make up on the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari which is why both Aston Martin and McLaren have new wind tunnels due to come on line over the next 12 months.
Smaller teams need infrastructure upgrades
James Vowells who left one of the best resourced teams in Mercedes to join the Williams as team principal was shocked at the lack of equipment he considered as standard when working for the Brackley based team.
“But it’s just survival, compared to other organisations that have had finance,” said Vowells of his new found home base in Grove.
“That’s the luxury I had prior to joining the team and as a result of that, you have these stark differences between where we are today and where we need to be in the future.”
Cost cap just one levelling up tool
The Williams boss described the timescales required as a
“number of years required to get some of the core facilities to the level required to compete with the funds and that’s not the work of six months or 12 months.”
While the cost cap will ensure the teams are restricted to a similar amount of car development spending each year, those with better infrastructures will be more efficient in their deployment of capital until the others ‘catch up’.
Aerodynamic Testing Restriction handicap
One other tool used to ‘level up’ has been the handicap system for aerodynamic testing (ATR). This was first introduced during the 2021 season and based upon the relative positions of the teams in 2020.
However, back then the delta between each team based on the championship position was just 2.5%, this has been increased to 5% to create a bigger fall off for the more successful teams and with Red Bull receiving an incremental penalty for a budget cap breach this season should see the biggest offset as follows.
|As-it-stands 2022 position||Team||% of aero testing limit||# of windtunnel runs||# of CFD items|
The above allowances are for each 8 week period (ATP), so the teams cannot do significantly disproportionate development efforts in just small part of the year.
Aston Martin prove ATR works
Clearly Red Bull began this year with the best car despite their ATR being cut from the date they accepted the breach of budget cap on October 26 2022.
That said the team may well have pushed through some of the early 2023 car aero testing knowing full well there was an impending penalty.
Aston Martin have demonstrated this year the advantage of the sliding scale ATR. They have 100% of the aero testing limit together with 320 wind tunnel runs and 2000 units of computer fluid dynamic work.
The Silverstone based team have used this advantage to good effect by closing the gap significantly to each of the top three teams last year.
Mercedes utilise spring break well
However, there are signs Mercedes incremental benefits may be starting to pay dividends. Having ditched the planned development programme outlined at the start of the season, Mercedes engineers will have been utilising their maximum aero testing time to evaluate their new direction.
Further, it appears the hiatus of a four week brake from racing caused by th cancelled Chinese GP has been put to good effect back at the team’s base in Brackley.
Speaking to formula1.com Russell now claims “I don’t read what’s been said in the news all the time, but you know, we’re here to win, we’re here to fight for victories and for the championship, and clearly we’re not in a position to do that at the moment,”
“But big changes are incoming…”
“Naturally you can’t get things brought that quickly to the car, but I think in due course, we’ll see some big changes and hopefully the lap times represent that.”
Mercedes making HUGE gains
Russell has been extensively testing new concepts and components conceived in by CFD in the simulator and whilst this work is at present in the virtual world, the British driver is buoyant with the results.
“I won’t give too much away, and we need to make sure they work [in real life] as expected…we’re probably finding more gains in the past two or three weeks than we found over the whole winter by clearly developing in the wrong window – so it’s definitely heading in the right direction.”
That’s a HUGE statement to make and if true could see the Mercedes’ teams fortunes revolutionised over the next few racing weekends.
Ferrari a different approach
By way of contrast Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur has admitted they will not be revising their car design and much of the work for the early European race season will be around optimising the SF-23 rather than by bringing rafts of upgrades.
The different approaches of the two teams will be fascinating to watch, particularly given Ferrari have significantly underperformed in the first three races.
Sainz pace as he came through the field in Australia was on a par with Verstappen up front and quicker than both Alonso’s Aston Martin and Hamilton’s Mercedes ahead.
— Paul McGinnes 🏁 (@PaulMcG92) April 16, 2023