Formula 1's 2022 regulations have been in the works for years — so long, they were originally supposed to be enforced in 2021. But they were delayed, as so many things were over the past 18 months. Thursday presented the first official look at a life-size model in the flesh, rather than a sketch or rendering, and it looks pretty damn good.
By now, you might be familiar with the objective for the 2022 chassis regulations: cut down the dirty air that makes following, passing and close racing in general very difficult for current F1 cars; and adopt a few road car-adjacent touches, like larger-diameter wheels and sustainable fuels, to give the series a more modern image.
The tweaks designed to facilitate competitive action are wide-ranging, consisting of everything from a return to ground effects to low-profile front wheel fairings and a new front wing shape, intended to slim down those vortices and mitigate aero wash. That’s the turbulence that causes cars to lose downforce when running nearby.
Here’s some data on that, courtesy of F1:
To put some numbers on it, research shows that current F1 machines lose 35% of their downforce when running three car lengths behind a leading car (approximately 20 metres, measured from the lead car’s nose to following car’s nose), while closing up to one car length (around 10 metres) results in a 47% loss.
The 2022 car, developed by Formula 1's in-house Motorsports team in collaboration with the FIA, and putting a heavy onus on the aerodynamic phenomenon known as ‘ground effect’ (more on which later…), reduces those figures to 4% at 20 metres, rising to just 18% at 10 metres.
A 35-percent reduction in downforce becoming 4 percent should be music to the ears of any F1 fan who’s lamented the fact that so many battles for position are settled in the pit lane these days. Or, if not there, they tend to come about as a byproduct of safety cars and rain. The intentions are clearly well-placed here, which in and of itself is a relief.
But what I’ve been most surprised and impressed by throughout the 2022 regulations planning is the desire to make these cars aesthetically elegant, too.
Everyone has their favorite era of F1 car design, and the evolution touched off by the 2009 rules that made the cars narrower, longer and taller hasn’t done F1 any favors in the fashion department, in my humble opinion. The new look will be something of a return to the lower-slung late-2000s days, only without the myriad winglets that made those cars look overly fussy and pointy. At the same time, the curvier, more fluid approach to the bodywork definitely gives off some Wipeout vibes. Visually, it’s all on point.
That will make it all the more interesting how individual constructors push the rules to make their respective chassis look and operate differently in ways that are marginal, but deliver huge differences on track. We all remember Brawn GP’s blown diffuser, the F-Duct or, more recently, Mercedes’ Dual-Axis Steering system. Every other year, a team floats a new trick that captures the attention of the whole paddock, inevitably resulting in formal complaints by rivals who weren’t as cunning. The aero device in question is either struck down or given a pass, forcing those teams moaning about its legitimacy to whip up their own versions as quickly as possible.
What kinds of shrewd innovations will chassis designers come up with when exploiting next year’s regulations? How might those ideas reshuffle the grid order? Which currently underperforming teams might win out as a result of all this? As much as I’m enjoying Mercedes actually challenged for the championship for the first time in what feels like ages, 2022 is looking extra special. I personally cannot wait for it.