The tracks are all set for the 72nd Formula one season as it leads into the sixth round in Spain. There are many changes in the cars and rules this year, the most important being the introduction of a new car design that creates more downforce, making the race even more entertaining.
A reshaped front and rear wing, adjustments to the tire size, and floor developments are among the most recent changes to these cars.
Starting in 1981 at the San Marino Grand Prix, participating teams have had 40 years of data with the 13-inch size tire. However, the governing body for Formula One, the FIA, altered the tire size to 18 inches this year, forcing drivers to adapt.
Larger tires decrease the overall speed, but makes the car more aerodynamic and dramatically reduces dirty air. “Dirty air” refers to the air that the car emits from behind. Significantly, “dirty air” limits the amount of downforce going onto pursuing cars—downforce being pressure forced onto the car as it accelerates providing extra grip on the track surface. So when the dirty air reduces that downforce it makes pursuing cars slower when turning in corners, and giving them a much harder time overtaking others.
The larger tires that reduce dirty air will therefore lead to more passing during races.
During the previous 2021 season of Formula One, the following car would lose 35% of downforce within 20m, and at 10m, there was a loss of 46%. With the current season’s cars, the loss of downforce within 20m is only 4%, and at 10m it is 18%.
This provides any mid-field team like AlphaTuari, Alfa Romeo and Alpine a more equal chance to compete with the so-called Big Three: Redbull, Ferrari, and Mercedes. This is because the mid-field teams are usually in the middle of the pack—they’re always trailing quicker vehicles that are now producing much cleaner air giving the mid-field a better advantage.
However, certain drivers appear to be having difficulty adjusting to the new tire sizes.
“The tires feel worse this year,” says Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time world champion driver for Mercedes, who had struggled for grip on the first practice day.
Others disagree. Pierre Gasly, a driver for Scuderia AlphaTauri, a mid-field team, said, “The tires feel really good on the car, quite fun battles and, yeah, I think it should make all the races quite exciting for you guys this season.”
These two opposite reactions demonstrate that this year’s competition may heavily depend on which driver adjusts to their car the fastest, providing every team a more equal chance of winning.
“For me actually, the biggest thing is just the view in the cockpit with these big tires,” says Max Verstappen, the reigning world champion and driver for Redbull. “To hit an apex in some tight corners is a bit more difficult.”
The challenge is not only finding the right driving style that would be correct for the tires, but also that the tires themselves are significantly larger, blocking the driver’s view.
FIA has also totally reshaped the cars’ front and rear wings, chucking the traditional boxy rear wing away. The traditional wing excels at creating downforce but leaves a substantial amount of dirty air behind. The new design is not as great for generating downforce, but one of its most important factors is it minimizes dirty air. The rear wing is shaped to collect any dirty air, pushing it up and over any cars following, giving them an easier chance to overtake.
The introduction of the new 3D floors is another crucial change for this season. The floors use a concept called the Venturi effect, which forces fluid or air through a narrowed space. The restricted area produces a large amount of pressure beneath the car, causing it to stick closer to the ground and producing more grip. There are cutouts in the floor, called Venturi tunnels, which allow air to flow through, producing an area of low pressure as the car accelerates. The faster the car goes the more pressure it creates and the more downforce it gets. This results in faster cornering speeds and more grip on turns.
As the season continues, drivers will gain a better understanding of their vehicles, and the more they comprehend, the faster they will progress and the better their battles will be. With these changes, the last lap is sure to be a nail-biting experience. The new rules are sure to make this year’s Formula One’s season a dynamic one. “I think it’s clearly better than last year which makes me quite optimistic in terms of racing for the season,” Gasly says.
Cover image: Formula 1