What F1 2021 will look like

What F1 2021 will look like

Details of F1 2021 continue to emerge – but what do we know so far about the future of F1?

F1 2021 concept

F1’s overtaking problem

Is there anything more exciting than when a driver straps on some fresh tyres and starts to hunt down their next opponent? Yet, when they get to within a few seconds of the car infront, they never get close enough to overtake – why?

This ‘cruise control’ affect is a result of the hot, turbulent, mushroom-shaped wake coming off the car infront, as shown in the videos below.

‘Under the current regulations, when the following car is one car length behind it loses approximately half of its downforce,’ highlights Nikolas Tombazis from the FIA. From the graph below, even at seven car lengths behind, which is approx 5m, the following car still only has 79% of the downforce of the car infront (which is assumed to be in clean air). 

CREDIT: Simscale and CREO Dynamics

‘Tyres create a lot of aerodynamic chaos behind them, they generate a nasty wake of low energy chaotic air and if you allow that to fall on your own car then it damages its ability to generate downforce,’ highlights James Allison, Technical Director at Mercedes. ‘So, every year since 2009 we’ve been developing techniques to take the wake of this tyre and throw it away from the car, as far away as we can. The main agents of throwing that wake outboard is the front wing, front brake ducts and the bargeboards behind. Sadly, if this airflow doesn’t fall on your own car, it winds up on the car behind you and makes it much harder for that car to then follow.’

Effectively, when air flows over an aerodynamic device, it loses energy and slows down. This low velocity flow leads to turbulence and by the time the airflow has worked its way downstream of the car, it has transformed into a hot, unsteady mess that the car behind has to drive through. Therefore, the pursuing car always experiences a performance loss compared to the car infront, which is why it slows down. Add to this the hot wake overheating the brakes and increasing tyre degradation and it’s a wonder we see any overtaking in F1 at all.

CREDIT: Simscale and CREO Dynamics

F1 2021 regulation research

To address this overtaking problem, F1 has assembled an experienced engineering team lead by Ross Brawn and including the likes of Nikolas Tombazis, Dominic Harlow and Jason Sommerville to name a few. Their aim is to research potential solutions and advise the FIA on how to produce a set of regulations that will enhance F1 racing for 2021. To help, the teams themselves have also been involved, with the FIA allowing them to conduct 2021 CFD simulations outside the current regulations, effectively making them unrestricted for two six-week periods during the first few months of the 2019 season. This collaboration between the FIA, F1 and the nine teams who chose to be involved makes the research into the 2021 regulations the most in depth to date.  

F1 2021 India baseline model
The F1 2021 baseline model codenamed ‘India’

‘We have arrived to the current cars without a lot of structure,’ Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Motorsports at F1 explains. ‘The decisions and directions to create the rules have evolved mainly due to political pressures or whatever. At no point has there been a serious look at where Formula 1 should sit, but that is what we are doing now. What has changed in the last few years is the new commercial rights owner, Liberty [media] has recognised the need to do this and provided the resources and funds for the FIA and F1 to work together to find solutions to the challenges that F1 face. We know its not a one stop shop, it’s the first major stage. This is the first time in the history of the sport that there has been such a deep study into what is needed.’

F1 2021 Aerodynamics

‘The aerodynamic research that was carried out at F1 with FIA involvement focussed on the reduction of the wake to improve the performance of the following cars,’ explains Tombazis. ‘We’ve also seeked to simplify the cars, the final shapes and the sensitivities in some areas, leading to lower performance differentials so we hope that the difference between the fastest and slowest cars will be smaller for 2021.’

F1 2021 model front

The main aerodynamic changes for F1 2021 include the list below and the aim has been to effectively reduce the amount of wake generated, but also manipulate this wake up and over the following car.

  • Simpler front wing – with the aim of creating weaker vortices to restrict the teams ability to control the front wheel wake
  • No bargeboards
  • Effectively a ground effect car, with a long diffuser starting from the front of the sidedpod which extends to the very back of the car
  • Some components will be prescribed in areas of great sensitivity to restrict teams from overcoming the main objectives
  • 18 inch tyres and wheels
  • Adjusted front and rear suspension to account for the 18inch wheels
F1 2021 McLaren
A rendering of what the 2021 McLaren could look like. CREDIT: McLaren

So what is the predicted result of all these changes? ‘[For 2021] we expect the following car at one car length behind to have at least 86% of the downforce of the car infront,’ highlights Tombazis. ‘Clearly when teams do their development this number will reduce but we are still expecting a huge chunk of performance [to be gained for 2021]. The simulations show that cars will follow more closely and will be able to attack the car infront.’ 

Below is a comparison between the wake generated on a current car, vs 2021. But with different colours, no scale and different graphics it’s very difficult to draw an accurate conclusion from this. However, what is apparent is a ‘hole’ in the wake behind the 2021 car, which we can assume is roughly one car’s length behind. So this does suggest that the following car will have more downforce than currently. 

F1 2021 wake comparison
Screenshot from an F1 video comparing the wake of current cars with 2021

This is supported by the graph below which shows that at one car length behind, a 2021 following car could have 31% more downforce than currently, almost achieving full downforce levels at seven car lengths behind. However, these simulations are based on a concept which has not yet been optimised by the full force of an F1 team. So, with F1 teams continuously hunting for downforce, any increase in downforce could contribute to this turbulent wake and consequently reduce the downforce of the following car. This predicted 31% increase in downforce from current cars to 2021 cars could reduce, the question is by how much?

F1 2021 downforce simulations

F1 2021 power unit

The power unit for 2021 is now unlikely to be the revolution that was initially expected. ‘I think Formula 1 has a role to play in powertrain development, but I think 2030 is where we should be looking,’ says F1’s Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds.

The Power unit for 2021 will be pretty much a carry over from what is raced today. Although there will be some cost saving measures such as material restrictions which will ultimately increase the weight of the power unit. 

‘Its true that we did start with more ambitious plans to change the power unit, and in a way I’m glad we didn’t, because I think it has enabled us to change the focus,’ says Brawn. ‘We’ve all seen over the last couple of years the increasing concerns of the environmental impact of the things we do and I think refocusing the engine suppliers on how we contribute to the future solution is a very important point. There are a billion fuel powered cars on the planet and we’re not going to get rid of them in two years, so we have to find other solutions and I think F1 can be a really strong figurehead in finding and promoting those solutions. I’m glad we didn’t change the engines that much because we’re now getting the PU suppliers to look at providing a solution to [a wider] problem.’

F1 2021 Power unit Mercedes W10 2019
F1 2021 power units will be a similar concept to those raced today

The fuel for 2021 will include double the amount of renewable content to 20% and from 2022 onwards there is an ‘ambitious roadmap’ that looks at increasing this renewable content for the future. ‘We are very focussed on sustainability and [for 2021] we’ll be making some very big announcements of the sustainability of the sport as a whole,’ highlights Symonds. ‘We hope to move to an energy based formula rather than a fuel mass flow formula. We’re hoping to move to something that approaches an E20 type fuel, so way ahead of where the road industry is.’

However, it is a different story for 2025, where currently all concepts are being considered. This could mean that the power unit will be fundamentally different to what is raced today. ‘We might be looking at two stroke cycles, split cycles, variable valve phasing, variable valve timing and lift and variable compression ratio as well,’ explains Symonds. ‘We need to improve gas exchange, that means better turbochargers with a lot of extension of the maps, perhaps two stage turbocharging, variable geometry, things like that. More waste heat recovery is likely to feature, we are obviously using turbo compounding at the moment, but perhaps we could look at fuel reforming or organic rankine cycle. There are reports that say the latter could improve fuel consumption by about 4.2 per cent. On the hybrid side, we are probably going to quad voltage systems, where we are using 400 volt, with 600 volt for traction, a 48 volt system for ancillaries, a legacy 12 volt system and a 5 volt instrumentation system.’

F1 2021 Suspension, Wheels and Tyres

The move to 18inch wheels and tyres was announced earlier this year, which will have a huge impact on performance. Not only does this allow for a larger brake disc, but the suspension will have to be completely redesigned. 

‘With an 18 inch tyre you have less volume of air inside it, so you have a different pressure increase which modifies the footprint,’ explains Mario Isola, Head of Car Racing at Pirelli Motorsport. ‘The tyre is a lot more reactive, and more precise and teams will need to redesign the suspension because the sidewall of the tyre is a lot less compared to now. We are also increasing the external diameter, so this will influence the aerodynamics and don’t forget that the interaction between the brake and the rim is very important, not only for heat exchange but also for the airflows that are in this area.’ 

Of course, with the wheel rims now standardised, teams will have less opportunity to explore F1 Rim Heating to help manage tyre temperatures. 

There was talk of banning tyre blankets, but Tombazis confirmed that these will still be used throughout 2021 and 2022. Although, costs will be reduced by decreasing temperatures as well as the number of tyre blankets available to the teams.  

New wheel size requires new suspension and if that wasn’t tough enough, the new regulations have simplified the suspension massively. Not only is hydraulic suspension now banned, but so are inerters. ‘We feel that [these components] have no real relevance to roadcars and is leading to ultra complicated systems,’ says Tombazis. ‘We’re also simplifying the inboard part of the suspension in terms of springs and dampers and also the kinematics. The outboard suspension points will now be inside the volume of the wheel rim, not sticking outside which we hope will simplify those areas.’

F1 2021 suspension
The suspension for 2021 will be hugely simplified

F1 2021 Weight and Speed

The current regulations specify that the minimum weight of the car will increase from 743Kg to 768Kg. The main contributors to this are the larger 18inch wheels and tyres, the power unit, standard parts as well as some additional safety features. 

The weight of the tyre will most likely stay the same, or be slightly heavier as the majority of a tyre’s weight is within the tread, and the new 18inch tyres will be low profile. However, the rim could be around 2kg heavier according to Isola, so an additional 8kg for the rims alone which is a huge change.

This weight increase, along with the new aerodynamic package and other changes will make the F1 2021 cars around 3.0s – 3.5s slower according to current predictions. 

‘To put that into perspective that’s the performance of a 2016 car,’ says Brawn. ‘In 2017 there was a huge increase in downforce, for reasons I don’t understand. This was in an effort to make the cars go faster and make F1 better when all it did was actually make it worse because the cars now can’t race eachother. Its an example of an unthought through programme so the cars are very quick now but they’re not raceable. The performance of these new cars are going to be similar to 2016, which I don’t think anyone was complaining about.’     

F1 2021 budget cap

Sustainability of teams and the championship as a whole has been another primary 2021 aim for F1 and has led to drastic financial regulations. The biggest change is the $175million (£140million) budget cap per season. Although there are several exclusions from this sum, according to Dieter Rencken in the November issue of Racecar Engineering, the net effect is that teams will be restricted to approximately 550 employees, which is roughly the size of McLaren, Williams and Renault. This could mean that the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari will have to downsize by 40%. 

‘This cost control will change the foundation of F1 and bring the teams closer together with more sustainable competition,’ says Brawn. ‘The cost control regs are completely new and they’ll face many challenges over the next few years but they’re essential for the wellbeing of F1. F1 is almost a victim of its own success. The rewards of success in F1 are so valuable that the justification of investment keeps coming so we’re providing a much stronger and sustainable platform for 2021.’

F1 2021 budget cap 2018 team expenditure
CREDIT: Forbes

‘It takes a top down approach… £140million pounds is still a lot of money,’ highlights Symonds at this year’s MIA Business Growth Conference. ‘Three years ago when I was Chief Technical Officer at Williams it was an awful lot more money than our total budget. But I think it will ensure the future of the sport and will redistribute the competitiveness of the field.’

F1 2021 standardisation

To help teams reduce their costs, components can now be classified into five categories:

  • Listed Team Components (LTC) – components made by each team
  • Standard Supply Components (SSC) – single supplier chosen through a tender process. Currently this includes wheel rims, brake discs and tyre blankets
  • Prescribed Design Components (PDC) – the design is owned by the FIA but teams can make it themselves
  • Transferable Components (TRC) – components that can be transferred from one team to the other such as the transmission
  • Open Source Components (OSC) – a set of components where teams submit their designs to a server and a rival team can make a component based on this design. 

‘The worst bit for me is we need to make sure that F1 keeps its DNA and the DNA of F1 is that it’s the only motorsport that is free in terms of technology,’ highlights Guenther Steiner, Team Principal at Haas F1 Team. ‘Once you start standardisation it can be a slippery slope in my opinion. A lot of people are interested in our technology and that is why they watch F1.’

2019 Toro Rosso transmission
Although the tender for a standard transmission has been dropped, F1 still plans to introduce a more frozen spec for 2021

‘As Ferrari, we always relay that we are against the standardization principle, but we know as well that we need to control the costs and expenses and obviously there is a budget cap so we need to find the right balance,’ says Mattia Binotto, Team Principal at Scuderia Ferrari. ‘Standardisation only makes sense if you save money, which has to be proved first.’

Others are very supportive of the idea. ‘I don’t agree that the DNA of Formula One is just to develop. We have to find a way to come down with the costs,’ says Franz Toest, Team Principal at Toro Rosso. ‘The people want to see some interesting racing, some overtaking manoeuvres. They don’t care about the form of the rims or about the brakes. They just want to see interesting races. Therefore I am in agreement with as many standardised parts as possible.’ Symonds agrees and thinks that standard parts are a ‘necessity to achieve financial stability even with a budget cap.’

The future of F1

‘Currently there is a lot of work going on to break the rules,’ says Tombazis. ‘We are trying to push them to the extremes to identify any loopholes or unintended consequences. So right now the aerodynamic department have put on a different hat, not that of a rule maker but more like one of an aerodynamic department at a team.’

Yet even when the rules are issued, this work will not stop. ‘As we see the teams solutions evolve we will analyse them and start to understand if they are starting to negate the objectives, then we can steer it back again,’ says Tombazis. ‘This is not a one stop shop where you just issue a set of solutions and leave it alone. We are going to monitor develop and tune the solutions constantly to make sure we maintain the objectives.’

F1 2021 model rear
Note the monstrous rear diffuser

So whether you agree with the details of the proposed rules or not, you have to be impressed with F1’s revolutionary approach to the 2021 regulations. Never before have so many engineers been working away at developing a new ruleset that will aim to not only sustain but also grow our sport. 

‘My message to you is to not fear change in F1 but embrace it,’ concludes Symonds. ‘We’re taking proactive steps to protect what we have and grow it in a sustainable way. [F1] is our life too and we’ve got no intention of letting it die.’


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