KNUTSON: Compromises Will Be Needed

Dan Knutson

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — It has been decades since overtaking another Formula One car was easy and it has become even more difficult in recent years. The new technical rules package that will be introduced in 2019 is designed to increase the potential for passing.

“It is very hard to follow another car now,” said Max Verstappen who is one of the best passers in the business. “As soon as you are within two seconds behind a car you start to feel the problem, especially when you are on old tires. When you are within a second it is very easy to lose the rear or the front of your car, and it is difficult to really follow the other car. I hope that the new front wings will help that a lot. I’m not sure that they will but we will find out soon.”

The new front wing is wider by 7.87 inches and much simpler, as it is limited to just five elements compared to the current wing which has many of vanes and winglets. Front wing endplates will also be much simpler. This is designed to prevent “out washing” which the designers attempt to direct the flow of air around the outside of the front tires rather than inside of them. The new rules package also includes simplified front brake ducts with no winglets, and a wider, deeper rear wing.

Currently, the car following loses about 30 to 50 percent of its downforce. The plan is to reduce that, and more rules changes will be introduced in 2020 and 2021.

“Obviously in one year you couldn’t do all of the changes that are planned eventually for 2021,” said Renault’s Technical Director Nick Chester. “I think it’ll make a small difference. It’ll go in the right direction, so the following will be a little bit improved. But we’re probably going to have to wait until 2021 to see what the full package can deliver.”

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But the fundamental problem will never go away.

“You’ll never get a F-1 car – which is essentially an aerodynamic formula – following like a touring car,” noted Rob Smedley who will leave his post as Head of Performance Engineering at Williams at the end of the year. “Physics won’t allow that to happen. So you have to accept that cars are difficult to follow – especially with this generation of cars and the amount of downforce that they generate. It will be a little bit better; it will go in the right direction, but we’ll all iterate to solutions to get us back to where we are in about six months.”

Smedley is right in that you can’t make racing engineers and designers forget what they know. But I believe if nothing had been done with the rules, then the problem would have just gotten much worse.

Meanwhile, as for solving problems facing the sport, the F-1 drivers and team bosses got a chance to air their views about the future of the sport and business with F-1’s commercial owners Liberty Media, the FIA and Pirelli during the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend.

“There are many things we can improve,” said Pierre Gasly, “but clearly one aspect that could improve racing if we had a bit more robust tires, less sensitive to overheating. It will give us the opportunity to follow the cars for longer. At the moment you do three corners really close from another car, you start sliding, and three degrees off temperatures on the tires and then you start to lose performance, and then a snowball effect, the temperature keeps increasing and after that you are done.”

Pirelli’s Mario Isola told the drivers that the 2019 tires are fully developed so no changes can be made to those.

“But we can make a different selection, have a different approach,” Isola said, “so it is important to understand from the drivers how their expectations are.”

And what do the team bosses talk about?

“They (Liberty) face the same challenges that they had before,” said Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff. “There are some good markets, some good races, and some markets that are more difficult, and some races that are boring. It is normal. They are facing the complexity of free TV vs. pay TV. Plus, the way content is being consumed changes. It is not easy for them, but the sport is in good shape.”

Asked about the main things the teams are pushing for, Wolff said it is about revenue split and the sport growing.

The bottom line is that compromises will be necessary, but the important thing is that Liberty is listening.