And despite the hours spent in their wind tunnels and on sophisticated CFD modeling, aerodynamicists won’t be completely convinced that they’ve done their math until their new machines have completed a decent amount of testing in Bahrain later this week. .
Teams are always keen to research the correlation between their real cars and the tunnel, which is why they often focus on collecting aerodynamic data during the first test.
However, on this occasion there are specific concerns as one of the key areas of the body change – before the rear tires – is notoriously difficult to model with the level of precision desired.
Teams that have completed a day of filming or shakedown already have some data, but 100kms was not enough to get all the answers, especially for those who only ran in the wet.
For Mercedes and Haas, who haven’t had a day of filming and whose new cars won’t be on track until Friday, the Bahrain test is potentially even more important. Ferrari is in a similar situation, as the SF21 will have a late shakedown on a day of filming in Sakhir on Thursday.
The enormous influence of rule changes also explains why the teams were very selective in the images they broadcast. When Mercedes launched, the W12’s floor was heavily disguised, as technical director James Allison noted.
“The little that we don’t show you is down along the floor,” he explained.
“This area is the area that was most affected by the new regulations, where they tried to reduce the performance of the car by changing the floor rules. There are a bunch of aerodynamic details out there that we’re not quite ready to divulge to the world.
Mercedes AMG F1 W12
Photo by: Mercedes-Benz
“Not because it’s not there, but because we don’t want our competitors to see it. We don’t want them to start trying to put similar things in their wind tunnels. It just buys us a few weeks. additional.
“I think we all watch very closely what our competition is doing, so we know our competition is going to be watching. And we haven’t got to show it yet, so we aren’t.”
The aero changes came in two stages late last year as the FIA looked for ways to reduce downforce in 2021 to help 2019 Pirelli tires survive into a third season.
At the time, it was expected that the tires would be unchanged. In the end, Pirelli managed to fit in a test program during a Friday practice session and learn enough to develop a more robust tire in 2021, but by then the aero changes were already there. in the system.
The FIA’s goal was to reduce downforce by around 10%, and the teams have spent the last few months trying to regain that downforce.
“The combination of the floor space that people are trying to hide, the change in the shape of the brake duct, and the change in the diffuser enclosures is certainly a pretty substantial reduction in downforce,” says the technical director of Alpine Pat Fry.
“I think this will be one of the main areas of development. So we don’t have just one solution, we have a myriad of things to test just to make it happen. It was certainly a big loss. We haven’t recovered everything yet, but it’s still a work in progress.
“It’s going to be when we get to the first test where I think it gets really interesting, when we see how much things correlate with the wind tunnel and the CFD, as well as the actual absolute numbers that we get from the car. “
Photo by: Alpine
Fry’s admission that Alpine will try various solutions on the track is intriguing, as it shows how much effort was required and how there is still some uncertainty as to what will actually work.
The teams won’t just have to test their own pieces in Bahrain – they’ll take a look at what everyone else has done and assess if there’s anything they’ve missed.
As Allison admitted, the huge impact of the aerodynamic changes has led teams to be more careful than ever to show their hands before they actually do.
“I think it’s just a point of principle, more than anything,” says Fry. “You never give anything. I’ve been taught this for 30 years, so it’s hard for me to change now.
“I think the secret that people are showing right now, the areas that we touched on earlier, the area on the side of the ground, in front of the tire, the brake lines, how people reacted to this whole area, I think this is the thing where people will try to keep their powder dry.
“We all think we’re smart and we all try to hide what we’re doing, and then you find out how fast you come to Bahrain.”
Aston Martin CTO Andrew Green warned last year that the aero register changes would be significant, and it turned out to be the case.
“It was a tall order, mainly because of the delay in the change,” says Green. “There have been two changes. I think the first pushed the car back, and then the second, again, even further.
“And that was our challenge during the winter to recover. I don’t think we are where we would like to be.
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin Racing
Photo by: Aston Martin Racing
“But it’s all relative, so we’ll wait and see. We’re happy with what we’ve done so far. There’s still a lot to do. But I think we’ve given ourselves a solid foundation to work on.”
There is an added dimension to the 2021 aerodynamic focus. This year, revised test regulations introduced a sliding scale of wind tunnel hours and CFD usage based on last year’s championship ranking, Mercedes. getting the least and Williams the most.
Along with that, there is the obvious need to focus aviation resources on the 2022 package. Haas has already decided to focus entirely on the new car, and others will make a full transition as soon as they dare.
The last thing a team needs now is to find out in Bahrain that they missed a tip and now need to divert further efforts to re-evaluate the 2021 rule changes, thereby stepping away from next year’s draft. .
“I think the biggest challenge we’re seeing right now is the 2022 car, which is on the horizon,” says Green.
“And that’s such a radical change in concept from anything we’ve done before. This consumes a significant amount of development resources that would normally be spent on the current season’s car.
“So I think there is still a lot of performance left in the 21 car. I think our biggest challenge is trying to squeeze it out in the time we have, which is quite limited.”
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin Racing
Photo by: Aston Martin Racing
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has already made it clear where Maranello’s squad’s priorities lie.
“Our goal in 2021 will be to develop the 2022 car,” says the Italian. “That will be the main focus, so we won’t be spending a lot of time on 2021 during the season.”
Binotto stresses that the aerodynamic correlation will be essential.
“Obviously we know how far we’ve come with the power of the wind tunnel. But more than that what will be important is to see the delivery from the track. How will the car really be on the right track. way compared to expectations. “
“We have experience in the past and we are not the only ones who sometimes have a gap between the wind tunnel and the race track.
“And I think that will be a key point for all the competitors, because again after changing the regulations at the rear of the car, I think there is sort of a correlation work that is required, and I think that will be a key factor for the season. “
Teams only have one three-day test, so there’s no second chance to try the updates on the track ahead of Bahrain GP race weekend – although Mercedes has a scheduled filming day in Sakhir on March 16, and he may keep some parts of it hidden until then.
So, there isn’t much of a safety net for anyone who finds out during this week’s test that there is some extra aerodynamic work to be done, and remember that Friday’s race weekend was. reduced this year, so once the season starts it will be harder to catch up.