“It’s definitely easier” – drivers describe how new cars can drive closer than ever RaceFans

When Formula 1’s managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn first revealed the first concepts of what would become the technical regulations revolution for the 2022 season, there was a fundamental purpose underlying everything. : Improve running.

The debate over the “dirty air” effect in Formula 1 has raged since the vast majority of Formula 1’s 20 drivers are alive. F1’s reliance on surface-generated downforce has resulted in drivers struggling to get close enough to rivals to attempt to pass has been the subject of endless debate.

In Brawn – whose exploits as technical director and then team owner had rewarded him with multiple world championships – Formula 1 had someone highly qualified to not only recognize the root causes of the affliction of “the ‘dirty air’, but be able to conjure up a workable solution. to her.

“Once the cars are within a few car lengths of each other, they lose 50% of their downforce,” Brawn explained when concepts for the 2021-era cars were first released to the public. times in 2018. “That’s a substantial amount of lost performance. So we set out to figure out why that was the case and how we can improve it.

Now, years later, all ten teams, 20 racing drivers, millions of enthusiastic fans around the world and even Brawn himself have finally gotten their first taste of this new concept, with three days of test data from the real world after last week’s ‘shakedown’ in Barcelona.

Norris and Russell grew close during testing

While the radically redesigned ground-effect cars certainly proved pleasing in terms of appearance, the key question on everyone’s lips in the paddock – beyond ‘who is looking fastest’ – was whether the drivers could finally run closer behind their rivals without being greatly hampered by the invisible force of disturbed air?

“It seems to be a bit easier to stay behind,” said world champion Max Verstappen after his first full day of racing in Red Bull’s new RB18.

“At least you don’t have that weird loss of downforce where sometimes you have a lot of massive understeer or oversteer. Of course I don’t expect it to be completely gone and you can track on the rear diffuser, because of the speeds we still reach in an F1 car, but everything seems a bit more under control.

Williams driver Nicholas Latifi was much more encouraged by the new rules package.

“I actually had the opportunity to get behind a few cars,” he said. “And yes, it’s definitely easier to follow. Without a doubt.”

Latifi’s optimism was echoed by new teammate Alex Albon. Asked if he had been surprised by anything on track in his first official race as an F1 racing driver since 2020, Albon replied: “how can we follow”.

“It was quite surprising,” Albon continued. “It’s a nice surprise, and it’s something that takes a bit of getting used to.”

Drivers have to relearn how to drive their car effectively while running behind other cars, Albon explained, and try to forget the techniques they’ve forged over years of battling dirty air.

“You almost gain a memory of what you can and can’t do when you’re a certain distance from a car, you learn how to back up, you learn the limits of tracking – and it’s kind of been recalibrated a bit , ” he said.

“I didn’t spend many laps behind other cars, but you could say it has improved a lot. And that’s great for sports.

While most teams and drivers were primarily focused on learning their radically different cars during their limited track time last week, George Russell and Lando Norris found time to lap the track together and better understand the behavior of ground effect cars when they are retracted. behind another.

“I think George and I had a perfect demonstration of that,” Norris explained. “I didn’t want to let him pass as he was doing a fast lap, so I screwed him up and held him back a bit.

“Definitely the ‘corner following’ part is an improvement. How much exactly? It’s hard to know, because you’re always at different levels of fuel, tires and stuff. Maybe when there’s two, three, four, five, six cars in front, it can still be very different.”

Guanyu Zhou, George Russell, Alexander Albon, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
Could the DRS become even more powerful this year?

While Russell thinks it’s now easier for cars to follow the new rules, he admits to being concerned about how the aerodynamic reliance on ground effect seems to have dampened the effect of wake on long straights. .

“I think the following has been improved, but the suction effect has been significantly reduced I think,” said the new Mercedes driver. “So I don’t really know.

“You obviously need that delta on the straights to be able to overtake, because you can only really overtake at the end of a straight on the corner. I think we can follow closer but, according to what we saw the wake effect is significantly less effective so we’ll have to wait and see I ended up right behind Lando and was a car length or two behind and couldn’t catch up to him in the straight, so it was a little worrying.

Valtteri Bottas offered similar comments to Russell, despite his limited laps driving the Alfa Romeo over the three days. Bottas predicts that if the trend continues, DRS could end up becoming a more powerful passing aid in 2022 than before.

“I’ve talked to other riders, they say they got closer, they said they had less drag,” Bottas explained. “I think it’s a big point that the DRS effect is bigger this year because of the wider wing, so maybe that will compensate for the small loss of wake.”

While this may worry worried fans hoping to see the rear of Formula 1’s drag reduction system for good, it’s also important to keep in mind that this is all based on impressions over three days at the Circuit de Catalunya – a track capable of producing close races in many series, but less so in F1.

The second test at the Bahrain International Circuit, with its multiple long straights leading into slow corners, may offer a much better insight into how wake and DRS can work in 2022. But that’s only when the 20 drivers are racing in Bahrain on Sunday March 20. that we’ll have our first real indication of the success of these major technical regulations in giving fans more of the wheel-to-wheel racing they love to see.

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