With ongoing construction work radically altering the layout of Marina Bay city circuit, the track is set to lose four defining 90-degree turns. Instead, a lengthier back straight will replace these corners, reducing pressure on rear tyres and potentially providing a golden opportunity for Ferrari in the qualifying rounds.
The anticipated diminished effectiveness of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) could inhibit Red Bull‘s rebound should Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez miss their shot at the pole position. The RB19, a product of the Red Bull team, has typically struggled to excel over the uneven surfaces and demanding kerbs that typify this street circuit.
If Balance of Performance (BoP) had been incorporated into the top-tier series, the competition could be fiercer, eliminating the necessity for waiting until the 15th lap out of 22 to break Red Bull‘s sprinting and Grand Prix winning streak, a trend that began in Abu Dhabi last year.
The subject of BoP in F1 has recently resurfaced given Red Bull‘s impeccable track record and the likelihood of the regulations remaining substantially unchanged until 2026, potentially leading to another two seasons dominated by the Milton Keynes-monopoly.
In sportscar and GT racing, BoP implements performance-equalising measures designed to counteract discrepancies across the field. Such measures could help Alpine recover from a 30 brake horsepower (bhp) deficit, allow Mercedes to resolve issues with an unstable rear end and offer Williams the opportunity to use increased aerodynamics to narrow the downforce gap.
However, in F1, introducing BoP would be solely to create more competitive racing to enhance the overall spectacle on the circuit. The Red Bull vs Ferrari showdown witnessed in early 2022 seems a distant memory; a three, or even four-team, F1 title fight now appears remarkably opulent.
Even though the sport is now in a commercial boom, teams are not keen on accepting aid to improve their performance. As the Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’ surges in popularity, teams express a preference for preserving the integrity of F1 as a sporting meritocracy even if it means risking the on-track action and audience numbers.
Ferrari‘s team boss, Fred Vasseur, echoes these sentiments when discussing the suggestion that the FIA and FOM should intervene to mitigate Red Bull‘s dominance. He voiced his disapproval against the Balance of Performance, claiming it does not align with Formula 1‘s DNA and already existing measures like wind tunnel allocation are enough.
Perhaps one reason for the mutual agreement among team principals is the sport’s perceived shift towards engineers. The success of Mercedes and Red Bull under Toto Wolff and Christian Horner‘s leadership is the exception rather than the norm. The respective appointments of Andrea Stella by McLaren, James Vowles by Williams and Mike Krack by Aston Martin are indicative of the move towards putting engineers in charge. For these engineers, overcoming challenges independently is of the essence, and BoP doesn’t gel with this ethos.
As Vasseur hints, BoP isn’t entirely alien to F1. Current regulations such as the cost cap and Aerodynamic Testing Restrictions have already been integrated to serve a similar purpose. While they might not promote immediate growth, these measures may eventually lead to convergence.
Recent strides by Aston Martin from 2022 to 2023 and McLaren‘s gains during the season exemplify that the competitive hierarchy isn’t solidified. The reason Red Bull feels untouchable is because of its optimum concept ground-effects era start and its two-year evolution. With the RB19 serving as the template for future car designs, other teams are playing catch-up rethinking their own design models.
However, all nine opposing teams lagging behind has also contributed to Red Bull‘s current winning streak. Compared to the scramble for designing a unique double diffuser as seen in 2009, Red Bull‘s predicament is less daunting. Starting the ground-effect era on the right foot, it’s been able to maintain the lead by continually refining its processes.
Despite the looming fear that Red Bull, having survived the worst of the 10% ATR penalty for breaching the 2021 cost cap, will continue to evolve, other teams prefer this laissez-faire approach over a regulated BoP system. Stella’s sentiments encapsulate this, “We don’t want to have any help. We want to close the gap by our own means. And we like this challenge. And that’s what we want for the next couple of years.”