Changes designed to bring life back to a Formula 1 that many spectators believe has suffered from a lack of competition both on and off-track has been announced.
The long-awaited new sporting, technical and financial regulations were made public prior to the United States Grand Prix weekend, and have been met with a largely positive reaction from those within and without the sport.
The FIA want to encourage overtaking on-track that will make each Grand Prix more of a spectacle, and away from the racing, they want to make it easier for smaller teams with limited budgets (and by ‘limited’ we’re still talking hundreds of millions of dollars a year!) to compete with moneybags Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
So what’s new for 2021?
The 2021 Formula 1 car will feature 18 inch wheel rims (an increase of 5 inches on the current 13 inch rims) and low profile Pirelli tyres, which combine to give it a much meaner look.
The front and rear wings look a lot simpler. They aren’t cluttered with little flicks and slits and aerodynamic add ons that may help create downforce, but as a result contribute to a wake of dirty air that make it incredibly difficult for a car behind to follow closely.
The rear wing is significantly more prominent, and in the early renderings looks V shaped as the main plane laterally protrudes much more than the current largely box-shaped rear wings.
It’s beneath the cars that the magic happens. The new regulations actively promote ground effect (a method of generating suction by using areas of low pressure, effectively pulling the car to the track) for the first time in F1 since the early 1980s when it was banned.
Ground effect is seen as being the most effective way of creating downforce without the bi-product of spoiled air left in the cars’ wake.
It is estimate that a combination of the above will reduce the amount of downforce lost by a car following another by up to a whopping 70%!
Power units will remain the same 1.6l turbo hybrids as are currently being used, despite plenty of appetite for something a lot simpler and less expensive to develop in an effort to encourage other manufacturers into the sport.
The big news here is that the provisional regulations for 2021 stipulate that – other than driver salaries, marketing and other non-F1 related activities – teams must spend no more than $175 million (which will go up if more Grand Prix are added to the F1 calendar at $1m per race).
To a team like Williams, who spend roughly this in any given season anyway, it won’t be much of a shift. However, with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull (Formula 1’s current ‘big three’) spending upwards of $400m in a season, for those guys it could prove to be a real headache.
Ross Brawn insists that penalties will be severe for any transgressors, however, there’s part of me that wonders whether the top teams & their lawyers will already be looking at ways of shifting any of their costs to ‘marketing’ or ‘non-F1 related activity’, or better (or worse) still, to their parent companies.
There will also be a revised prize money structure. (Bear with me on this one…)
There are four pots of money from which teams will earn prize money:
Pot 1. Half of all F1’s prize money will be divided equally and shared out between all ten teams.
Pot 2. Paid out to all teams based on championship standings. Constructors champions will be awarded 18%, while 10th place will get 2%.
Pot 3. This will reward teams for top three finishes in the last ten years (rolling from year to year).
Pot 4. (And this still sticks in my gut) Ferrari’s ‘Long standing team’ bonus, only paid out to Ferrari as a reward for their status as F1’s premier attraction and likely to be as much as $35 million.
Overall, positive changes to our sport, however I think they could have gone even further with standardised parts, and the removal of Ferrari’s ‘veto’, although that would risk the ire of some key players and F1’s stagnation in the last eight or nine or so years means it can ill-afford any high profile withdrawals.
Another key thing to note is that these are draft proposals and may be subject to change.
There’s likely to be a lot of pressure on F1 from some of its main stakeholders – not known for being particularly magnanimous – to serve their own agendas, and so it’s up to Ross Brawn and his guys to hold their nerve and make sure these changes go through unmolested, for the health of F1.