Expert opinion and analysis
Formula 1 chiefs recently revealed their vision of how grand prix machinery could look in 2021, and the images quickly went viral in the fan community. It’s a trifle unfortunate, then, that not only were these images not intended for such widespread dissemination, the cars are unlikely to look like this come 2021 anyway.
F1 owners Liberty Media see the end of the present technical regulations in 2020 as a key opportunity to relaunch the sport with their stamp upon it, and to grow the audience by appealing to a younger demographic. As such they are exploring means of making the on-track action closer, more exciting and spectacular. Naturally the cars themselves are a crucial element of the package.
With this in mind, last year Liberty commissioned designer Antonio Paglia to help evolve some outline ideas that would form the basis of future rule changes. The concept sketches were never intended to be widely distributed until the sport’s various stakeholders had got closer to agreement on the shape of the new regulations.
However, Liberty were left with no option but to go public after F1 managing director Ross Brawn innocently used some slide images of one of the concept cars during a fan event ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.
“I did a lecture to young people about getting involved in engineering, and science and technical topics,” explains Brawn. “Rather naively I put up this image on the screen and all the phones came out...”
Brawn had expected the images to remain ‘in the room’, but within minutes they were circulating on social media, where they were quickly picked up by mainstream news outlets. Liberty then had little choice but to arrange a briefing later that weekend to explain all.
The concept images featured a more sculpted and futuristic overall design theme, which Brawn felt would capture the attention of young fans more than the intricate aero-optimised shapes on current cars.
“I see no reason why we cannot have exciting-looking cars,” says Brawn. “It frustrates me when a car in a video game looks better than the car we’re racing out on track.
“That is not to say we pay total homage to what will look great in a video game. It has to be a great racing car.”
Several design elements stood out, including a sharkfin front to the halo, and a marked reduction in the number of winglets. In emphasising that these were just outline concepts, Brawn also hinted at the possibility of later designs having covered wheels to help improve airflow.
“One of the interesting things we are looking at is the area around the tyres,” says Brawn. “One of the great things about an F1 car is we have open cockpit and open wheel, but the airflow around the tyres and the wheels is very dirty. It disturbs the airflow a great deal.
“We are looking at not enclosing the wheels, but perhaps having detailed fairings around the wheels, which will help clean up that flow and improve the conditions for the car behind.”
But while the slides he showed were mere pointers to a possible future, Brawn was resolute about one principle. The aim of the 2021 rules is to make cars that can race more effectively rather than just look better.
“One of the primary objectives has been to work on the raceability of these cars and how well they can race each other - how close they can get to each other without losing substantial amounts of performance,” he explains.
“The current cars, once they get within two or three car lengths, they can lose up to 50 per cent of their performance. This is why when drivers are on the same tyres and same age they struggle to race each other on some tracks.
“When you get into that condition, where you are 2-3 car lengths behind and you are losing grip, the tyres degrade more and it becomes very challenging.
“So the prime purpose of the work we are doing is to try to produce cars which are more raceable.”
F1 teams are already working on early CFD models of 2021 concepts to evaluate ways in which Brawn’s ‘raceability’ targets can be achieved. Naturally they will also be identifying means of gaining an advantage over their competitors. As such, the likelihood is that the final designs will differ greatly from blank-sheet images conjured by an industrial designer working to a less competition-oriented brief.
“I’m not going to pretend that from day one we will have the perfect solution, certainly from the aesthetics, because try as hard as we can we can never anticipate every move that the teams will make,” says Brawn.
“We have to do our best to arrive at a set of regulations and make them as unambiguous as possible, but there is no guarantee.
“The key thing is being able to respond quickly when we see things happen that are unintended. We are quite encouraged with the cooperation with the teams at the moment, but that will change at some point in the future, when they move into their competitive mode rather than cooperative mode.”
Industrial designer Antonio Paglia was commissioned to sketch possible 2021 concepts