You Can’t Hold Back Formula 1 Cars—Even With Rules To Slow Them Down
Seasoned Formula 1 watchers know that changes to its rules are close to an annual occurrence these days. And this forthcoming season is no exception, with front wings and bargeboards simplified compared with those used in 2018. The primary purpose of the changes is to make it easier to follow in another car’s wake and therefore increase overtaking chances. And it was assumed that simultaneously the changes would slow the cars, the consensus being by around two seconds a lap.
This was apparently re-confirmed recently by Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto at his car’s launch, where he said his team’s measure of the negative impact was 1.5s a lap. However the measure of lap times from cars running on track in last week’s first official pre-season test said otherwise. The quickest time set in the Barcelona running was Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault (below) managing a 1m 17.393s, which was two seconds faster than the quickest time in the first Barcelona test 12 months ago–a 1m 19.333s set by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
The most likely explanation is that those who work in F1’s technical departments are very good at clawing any time loss back within any revised framework they are given. Jody Egginton, to be promoted next month to the role of Toro Rosso’s technical boss from his current deputy position, believes this is indeed at play. “F1 engineers are fantastically good at overcoming challenges,” Egginton said. “The key point is that when people were talking about the lap time delta [difference from the old rules], I think it’s got a little bit lost in translation. The first moment we put the car in the wind tunnel that was configured to the new regulations, we lost a chunk of [aerodynamic] load, we lost a chunk of aero balance and the shape of our aero map was not what we wanted. That would have been similar for a number of teams. So then you get to work on recovering that as soon as you can. In our case, we’re learning all the time to find opportunities. We’re exploiting it, and history has proven teams are fantastically good at recovering big losses rapidly and finding opportunity even within what is potentially more restricted regulation. So in that respect it is a good engineering challenge. Let’s see how it pans out at the first races.”
By the end of the second pre-season test in 2018 Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari had whittled down the leading time to 1m 17.182s, and Renault’s technical boss Nick Chester believes that there will also be an improvement between the two tests this year, meaning cars heading into 2019’s first race will be faster than at the end of last season under the previous technical rules. “The cars by the end of testing are going to be a chunk quicker than they were this time last year, and I think they’re going to be probably a bit quicker than the end of ‘18 already,” Chester noted. “So by the end of ‘19 they are going to be quite quick.”