Personally I wasn’t expecting much from this Formula 1 season prior to the start, but it’s turned out to be quite an exciting one. The Hamilton/Verstappen battle seems destined to rage on until the last possible moment,/ and we’ve been treated our fair share of little surprises throughout, from unexpected victories to heartbreaking losses. That makes it all the more interesting that next year’s sweeping new chassis regulations figure to turn it all upside down.
We’ve covered the major points surrounding the 2022 car, and how it’s been designed to curtail aero wash so drivers can actually make passes without the assistance of DRS. That’ll be achieved largely by generating downforce via ground effects underneath the car, rather than aerodynamic devices on the body itself. What’s been less discussed is how other changes will make the forthcoming breed of F1 cars trickier to drive, perhaps because nobody’s actually driven one yet.
Still, that hasn’t stopped the likes of Lando Norris from reflecting on the challenges ahead. The McLaren phenom spoke candidly to Motorsport.com about the feeling he’s anticipating behind the wheel of the 2022 machine:
“It’s a very different car to drive. In a way not as nice as this season.
“But I think hopefully that’s the same case with every other team as well. And we’ll see, there’s no point trying to think it’s amazing or terrible.
“You just have to do the best job you can and hopefully, next season, we go to the pre-season test with a good car.”
Norris didn’t go into detail about why he’s not loving the prospect of his future ride, but recent comments made by Alfa Romeo technical director Jan Monchaux put Norris’ reluctance into context. From RaceFans:
“The tyres and rims getting much heavier,” said Monchaux. “The unsprung weight will also make the ride more complicated.”
The teams’ ability to use their suspension systems to improve the ride will be reduced by other rulebook revisions. In recent years F1 has outlawed some of the ride optimisation devices teams have developed, notably Mercedes’ Front Rear Inter-Connected (FRIC) suspension. Next year these will be even more drastically limited.
“There are some serious changes in terms of damping,” Monchaux explained. “No new hydraulic suspension any more, so all the topics related to ride worsen.”
While the power unit remains unchanged, the extensive alterations to the cars’ mechanical systems and aerodynamics will produce a machine which is “more difficult” to handle, Monchaux suspects.
In other words, not only will the cars get significantly heavier — going from 1,657 pounds to 1,741 pounds — but more of that weight will be carried outside the body of the car. That’s exactly where you wouldn’t want the weight to go if you had to stash it someplace.
Also, limiting the extent of damping adjustments will in turn limit what can be done to ease the ride, and that has a negative effect on traction. That’s not a subject I tend to think about in race cars — I assume they’re all spine-shatteringly stiff, that the drivers have bones made of cast iron and that’s just how it is. Then again, the less juddering and skittering between the tires and asphalt, the more planted a car is. Race cars tend to work better when they’re on the ground.
As Monchaux continues on, he doesn’t paint the rosiest picture of the new cars:
“I would think, all in all, if the cars have some specific characteristics less under control or not in such a large window as you used to have thanks to all the winglets, barge boards, et cetera, and the addition of the unsprung mass et cetera [and other] modifications to the regs, I would assume they might be a trickier to drive,” Monchaux concluded.
“Especially in the very windy conditions or some extreme conditions where having less tools to manage your wheel wake, you might not be able to fully recover the losses we have. But it remains speculative.
So, to recap: We have cars that are heavier in all the wrong ways, potentially more fidgety and more restrictive to modify when something doesn’t feel quite right, or performance is lacking. I’m sure teams will come to grips with the new formula in time, just as they did back in 2009 when they cracked the double diffuser scheme. At least a little bit of uncertainty for the grid should mean a lot more excitement for all of us watching from the couch.