The current Formula One regulations have produced a car that creates a lot of turbulence behind it as it cuts through the air, which makes overtaking quite difficult. While the current car “fixes” that by implementing DRS, the 2021 regulations aim to remove that aero wash, according to a report by Motorsport.com.
The cars we see racing around currently have quite a different feel when in open air versus in a chase position. As a result of the turbulence on the following car, it is quite difficult to get close to the car in front. As soon as you tuck in behind for a reduction in drag and subsequent increase in speed, the aero wash from the car in front removes the downforce of the car behind nearly entirely. Some speed may be gained on the straight, but braking and cornering grip are compromised by a lack of aero.
According to F1 sporting director and genius aerodynamicist Ross Brawn, the current car loses as much as half of its aero performance when following two car lengths behind. For the 2021 regulations, Brawn says they already have a design that reduces that number to 10% performance loss while following.
Steps have been made for the 2019 regulations to reduce that aero performance dip by as much as one-third, which will hopefully translate to an increase in overtaking and an ability for drivers to fight on better footing. If this year’s racing results are a success, then that further reduction in aero penalty for 2021 sounds quite promising.
Brawn has to dance a fine line here, because the reduction in turbulence usually means a reduction in outright downforce.
“I’ve heard it commented that we should get rid of the wings and the downforce and just rely on mechanical grip and then the cars will be able to race each other,” Brawn told Motorsport.com. The problem with that is they’ll be slow. And the speed of the Formula 1 car is what takes your breath away.
We don’t want to lose the speed of the Formula 1 car. We want it to be the fastest racing car on the planet, the most impressive racing car on the planet - and you can only do that by harnessing the aerodynamic performance. So I don’t think we can take a simplistic view and just get rid of all the downforce and think that’ll solve it.
What we need is the downforce to be delivered in a way that cars can race each other. Overtaking can sometimes be used as the measure of success, but in fact close racing and the ability of cars to run behind each other and run side-by-side and get close and attack is the thing that everyone gets excited about. Even if it ultimately didn’t culminate in an overtaking being achieved - but they’re fighting each other.
I, too, would like to see overtaking become practical and possible again in F1. Bring it on.