The never-ending game of inches — nay, millimeters — that is Formula 1 often means solutions to complex problems lie in unlikely places. Like shedding paint from cars to draw as close to the minimum allowable weight as possible, because teams have exhausted every other method.
If some cars on the grid last Sunday in Bahrain seemed a little more bare than you remember, that’s because they were. McLaren ran its chassis without the splash of papaya orange paint around the airbox that was present during testing, though that may also have something to do with the team’s recently minted Google sponsorship. Aston Martin employed a similar strategy with its front wings. Every team is struggling to hit the 795-kilogram mark, and with the new technical regulations making cars heavier than ever, they’re just about running out of ways to trim down.
So paint is the next to go. And running bare carbon fiber in places can help shed a pound or two, which might seem like an insignificant sum but really does make a difference in a small-gains sport like F1. Every little bit helps. Aston Martin’s chief technical officer Andy Green said that its livery stripping has saved 350 grams — about three quarters of a pound — according to Motorsport.com.
Part of the reason the new formula has produced such heavy cars has to do with the way in which the 2022 field generates downforce: largely below the body, rather than over it. It’s imperative that air is channeled underneath in a deliberate and efficient way. Damage sustained to the floor that impedes airflow will obliterate a car’s competitiveness.
Still, this isn’t the first time F1 teams have modified their liveries seeking a performance advantage. Ferrari introduced a matte shade of Rosso Scuderia for its 2019 equipment, unlike the glossy finish on prior chassis. Using flatter paint throughout the car helped save “a few hundred grams,” according to team boss Mattia Binotto. Red Bull is running matte paint in 2022 as well. The way things are going, more constructors may join them — or just ditch colors altogether.
In fact, the reigning constructors champs might benefit from a switch back to the black cars of the past two seasons at this rate. Mercedes chief Toto Wolff reckons the Silver Arrows is one of the heaviest machines on the grid — which may partially explain his crew’s present troubles — and it’s returned to a lighter shade for 2022. Should we have another nail-biter of a title fight nine months from now, part of me wonders if the front of the grid will look very different from how it does today.