Following recent complaints from several drivers stating that current generation vehicles are becoming as hard to race in close proximity as their predecessors, it appears the International Automobile Federation (FIA) is familiar with the issue. They have been analyzing the performance of the contemporary ground-effect equipment and the verdict is that the 2023 vehicles have sacrificed half of the downforce loss gains made in 2022 when driving close behind another vehicle.
Carlos Sainz validated these findings after the recent Italian Grand Prix, expressing concerns about the increasing difficulty of racing. “It’s starting to become a bit like 2021 or 2020 where it is difficult to follow,” the Spanish driver commented. The FIA acknowledges that an immediate improvement is unlikely as it is too late to enforce changes on teams at this stage, but they’re contemplating tweaks for 2025.
Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA‘s single-seater director provided further insight about the aero performance dip in an exclusive interview with F1 Initiative’s Italian edition. “If we take the 2021 F1 cars, based on being two lengths from the car in front, they were losing more than 50% of the [aero] load,” Tombazis elaborated. “With the 2022 single-seaters, there was only a 20% reduction in load. But now we are at about 35%. Surely there has been a worsening and, on this point, Carlos is right. We have identified what we should act on.”
At this point, since teams have already dedicated a significant amount of resources to their upcoming models, pushing through any changes for 2024 seems unfairly demanding and rather pointless as resistance from competitors would be most definite.
Tombazis stated that an appropriate resolution is in the works and has plenty of time to execute before 2025, this being key to refining the aero attributes. “We are studying solutions for 2025. We have identified some parts of the cars to act on, such as the endplate of the front wing, the side of the floor and the fins inside the wheels (around the brake ducts). We could lay down somewhat more restrictive rules in these areas.” Tombazis openly admitted the need to take action stating, “It is clear we no longer have the advantage of 2022 and, therefore, we know that there is work to be done.”
The reduction in car-following ability stems from teams relentlessly pushing to innovate designs that amplify outwash, forcing the airflow away from the vehicle and its tires. This outwash effect hampers the capacity of cars to follow one another closely as the air creating downforce is sent clear. Team Ferrari has been a forerunner in exploiting a rule change by running slot gap separators on the front wing which divert airflow away from the vehicle.
While there are certain elements of the latest car innovations that don’t necessarily lend themselves to the racing aspect, Tombazis believes the FIA‘s interference on this matter isn’t warranted. “We have the right to act on flexible bodywork when we see something that does not convince us because the regulation says that parts should be rigidly secured and immobile,” he clarified. “In reality, we know that this is not [strictly] possible, so there is a right to apply common sense.” He stated that there are various interpretations of the aerodynamic regulations that they are currently not in agreement with, however, to alter anything would necessitate a broad consensus put through the right procedures. He admitted, “Sometimes we have tried to change things, but we have not always achieved the result we wanted. I believe that 90% of the regulations are in line with what we wanted and there is 10% that, with hindsight, we would have done in a different way.”