For some years, Formula 1 has been trying to address several matters all at once: a perceived need for more overtaking, a drastic reduction in costs and better “green” credentials. Meeting one of these criteria has often involved worsening one or more of the others and F1 has tied itself in knots as a result.
The governing body used to impose its solutions and force teams to adapt. Often, this created more problems, in that there were invariably ways around the intent of the rules and quite often they were expensive to research and implement. Gradually, F1 has become more consensus-driven, particularly in the last year or so, as the political fight for control of the sport has been resolved…at least for the time being.
Much progress has been made in reducing costs – the test ban, engine freezes and endurance requirements on engines and gearboxes have helped immensely. Little progress, if any, has been made in increasing overtaking and a very muddied message has been sent out regarding environmental concerns.
For 2011, the search for better solutions continues with further technical regulation tweaks, namely, an adjustable rear wing, the reintroduction of KERS hybrid power, and the banning of double diffusers, F-ducts and adjustable front wings. A steadily more restrictive resource-limitation agreement between the teams applies, with specific and tough targets on employee numbers, wind tunnel time and CFD capacity.
Also new for 2011 is the single tire supplier, Pirelli, in place of Bridgestone. Although that has been driven purely by Bridgestone's decision to withdraw, a key reason for that withdrawal – that F1 is not in keeping with the green image Bridgestone now wants to project – underlines the seriousness of the challenges faced by the sport.MOVABLE REAR WING
The feature was banned in 1969 (at right), but in 2011, rear wings can be adjustable – albeit in a very prescribed way. Although the specific technical regulation has not yet been published, the principle is that the wing can have an adjustable gap between its regulation two planes. At the press of a button, the slot gap opens, trains the airflow between – rather than over – the two wing planes, thereby dumping all the drag associated with the downforce and allowing the car to go much faster on straightaways. This will be rigged so that only a driver following less than one second behind a rival car can activate the feature, the idea being that the car behind is inherently faster than the one in front.
Once the car is within the required one second or less of the car ahead, the ECU will arm the system and a dash display will inform the driver that he can now activate it by pressing his button. The FIA reserves the right to adjust the required distance between the two cars and, for safety reasons, the default position of the wing in the event of a failure of the adjusting mechanism will be with the slot gap closed.
Far more so than the 2009 changes to the bodywork and wing dimensions, this change will radically increase overtaking. The concern is that it may be too effective and make overtaking so frequent that it ceases to have much significance, thus the teams have said they'll discontinue it should it prove problematic.
The motivation for this change is purely to improve the show. There will be some costs associated with researching the most effective way of designing such a wing, but it's not expected to be significant. There is a place for active aerodynamics in addressing the environmental issue in that forthcoming road cars are expected to have active radiator ducting according to the cooling requirements of a given moment. But this is unrelated to that. KERS
Hybrid power is back after the teams had agreed not to use it in 2010 for reasons of cost. It is back in exactly the same form as it appeared in 2009 – with the same storage capacity and a maximum deployment of 6.7sec per lap. Some teams wanted a more powerful system, but that would have made Mercedes' existing system obsolete and, having invested $15 million in it less than two years ago, it railed against further change.
It means that KERS will still be almost performance neutral: its extra power only overcomes the adverse lap time caused by its weight and its effect on the car's dynamics by the center of gravity change. It will only generate overtaking if, as in 2009, some teams use it and some don't, thereby mixing where on the track different cars are fast and slow.
One change from 2009 is that the large-tanked cars of the no-refueling era mean that for packaging reasons a flywheel KERS system is no longer feasible and all will be battery-powered.
This change is very much to do with Formula 1 trying to demonstrate an environmental awareness. Retaining the existing configuration means that little extra investment will be necessary for those teams that invested in KERS technology first time around. However, it will mean significant extra costs to the newest teams – Lotus, HRT and Virgin – plus which of the prospective teams joins the field in 2011.PIRELLI
Pirelli has said it will endeavor to create a big gap between the regulation two compounds of tires that must be used each weekend. This came after the Montreal race this year where the two Bridgestone compounds were unsuited to the surface and an unpredictable race ensued.
It would be difficult to retro-engineer a similar situation and it seems the Montreal circumstances were more to do with the track's surface than those of the tires. This sounds more like paying lip-service to an ill-thought-out demand. Don't expect much to change here.
F-ducts are gone on the grounds that – like KERS – once everyone has them, they are no longer overtaking generators and that they cost a lot of money to research. Adjustable front wings are gone on the grounds that they have manifestly not fulfilled their intention of increasing overtaking; they're simply used to improve performance over varying fuel loads and tire wear. Finally, double diffusers are outlawed on the grounds that they create a choppier aerodynamic wake than single diffusers and thereby make overtaking more difficult.