Meet the 2021 F1 car

Published: 22 August 2019

► Here's a draft of the 2021 F1 car
► It should be easier to follow cars
► And that should mean more overtaking 

Despite some great racing in recent months, F1 is determined to increase the amount of overtaking, and new regulations are being introduced in 2021 to do just that. Right now, most believe the fundamental problem with 2019 cars is the huge amounts of wake they generate – and the fact their trick aero makes them extremely sensitive to turbulent air.

So, while downforce is great, it’s currently enough to slow down the car behind, and eventually causing it to drop back, burn its tyres or overheat. And no, designers won’t ever make a car that’s less affected when following, as it won’t be optimised or as fast in clear air. Instead, pitstops and strategy have become more important in recent years. 

With all that in mind, the new 2021 rules are being designed to reduce the wake produced by cars and make them less sensitive when driving in disrupted air – all while trying to maintain a healthy downforce level. 

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Rather than present teams with a set of written rules, this time around the FIA has actually employed a team to design a car that meets the criteria, and to then write rules that’ll fit around it. This team benefits from experience from the likes of Ross Brawn and Pat Symonds: both are well versed in exploiting regulations to their advantage.

Better yet, the FIA’s inhouse team has had unprecedented access to computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software, unlike teams who currently have to work around a cap. 

'The wind tunnel testing we are doing is slightly different to what the teams might do,' said F1’s chief technical officer Pat Symonds on the F1 website. ‘The teams concentrate solely on the forces on the car, through a variety of attitudes as they move the car around.

'While we naturally have an interest in what those forces are and particularly how those forces change as the car moves, we’re even more interested in what is happening to the turbulent air behind the car.

‘The fundamental point of all of this is that we are trying to reduce the losses that the following car would face. The simplification of the leading car’s aerodynamics also helps for wake performance because on the one hand the front car doesn't have as many methods to control its wake. On the other hand the following car, not having all these little, very sensitive devices is less susceptible to disruption.'

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The proposed 2021 F1 regulation changes will probably make things easier for teams, too: in the past, F1 teams have had to clarify what is and isn’t legal before or even during the season. And famously in 2009, the teams originally consulted to make the rules had the worst cars – at least for the first part of the season. 

The 2021 F1 car looks good actually...

It does! Pictures of the 50% scale model in the wind tunnel are promising, and the new car has a hint of Indycar about it, too – just look at how the nose dispenses with supports. Eagle-eyed technical fans will also notice small aerodynamic wings above the front wheels, presumably to reduce the amount of turbulence they produce. All four wheels feature 18-inch rims as opposed to the 13-inch ones currently used by teams.

Everywhere else, the car is more or less similar to what we’ve got now – just less complex. 

Apparently, the design is working well, with the test F1 team reporting 5-10% disruption when in wake as opposed to the 50% teams currently have to endure. Still, it didn’t seem to cause a problem in Austria, Canada, Silverstone, Germany and Hungary in 2019, did it? Also, won't changing the rules at this stage force teams to spend more money, therefore benefitting teams with bigger budgets, and spreading the field out once again? 

Anyway, what’s next for F1?

Now that the car and new rules appear to be in place, F1’s team of aerodynamicists will essentially try and break them. F1 has always been about looking for loopholes, and now with more CFD time behind them, it’s these areas where the F1 testers will try and narrow the wriggle room. Hopefully the car will still look as good when the teams come up with their own interpretations in 2021...

We’ll continue to update this story.

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast