OPINION: F1 groups face a high-stakes juggling act
For a very long time, System 1 groups have talked the speak relating to the importance of the 2022 season by way of the chassis rules reset and the necessity to produce a robust automotive as a agency basis for the brand new period of guidelines. However now that the season has began, they need to stroll the stroll and guarantee they don’t seem to be tempted into prioritizing short-term positive factors.
Whereas some groups have delivered on their expectations, albeit based mostly solely on the restricted pattern set of 1 grand prix weekend’s price of knowledge, others have fallen quick. For these not on the degree they hoped for, some powerful choices should be made about how they allocate their assets.
Take Aston Martin, for instance. Regardless of the excessive hopes for the rebranded group, which had the third-fastest automotive on common final season, it has began poorly, and blamed the aerodynamic rule tweaks designed to cease downforce ranges persevering with to develop. Tweaks, it needs to be famous, which have had the specified impact, with the downforce loss across the 5 % mark however various by group.
Like Mercedes, Aston Martin is affected by operating the low-rake idea that it initially copied from F1’s dominant power. With much less quantity of air underneath the ground due to the decrease rear experience top, the potential for downforce creation is lowered and this seems to have tipped the steadiness in favor of these operating higher-rake, as exemplified by Pink Bull’s main tempo.
Setting apart the rights and wrongs of this – and it needs to be famous that Pink Bull was adamant its idea had the better potential even earlier than the rule adjustments – it has reworked the aggressive panorama. Nevertheless it’s important groups reply in the fitting means. For whereas these operating decrease rake can’t leap to a higher-rake idea given the restrictions on what they will change and the large influence such a transfer would have on the remainder of the aerodynamics of the automotive, there would be the temptation to squeeze out extra efficiency in pursuit of improved outcomes.
If you happen to look again to the ultimate yr earlier than the introduction of the V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014, there’s a cautionary lesson from Ferrari. Having gained two races early within the season with Fernando Alonso, Ferrari slid again and was quickly out of championship rivalry. But then-Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo was nonetheless pushing for enchancment inside that season. That got here on the expense of 2014 improvement, each by way of the chassis and engine undertaking, which means it was off the tempo when the principles modified. You’ll be able to argue that Ferrari, regardless of a few seasons when it was a championship risk in 2017-18, has by no means solely recovered from that mistake.
Aston Martin group principal Otmar Szafnauer was requested after the Bahrain Grand Prix how the unhealthy begin may influence the tradeoff of assets by way of ongoing ’21 improvement and the ’22 undertaking.
“The trade-off needs to be how far more we achieve this yr, at what expense for subsequent yr,” mentioned Szafnauer. “That’s actually laborious to foretell. Presently, we’re going to maintain entering into parallel.”
Aston Martin is a group with huge potential, however the rebrand and the sturdy efficiency final season deliver with it additional pressures. Crew proprietor Lawrence Stroll expects success quick, but it surely’s important that the will to do higher this yr doesn’t come on the expense of the 2022 automotive. Given there are limitations within the Aston Martin automotive idea – an idea that was solely ever speculated to be a single hit earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic led to the rule change being put again a yr – this should be factored in.
Szafnauer talked about a trade-off, however in case you have a look at it in easy phrases, is one or two locations gained this yr price one or two misplaced in comparison with what may be achieved subsequent yr? Positively not. In relation to choices like this, it’s the place sturdy management and a gradual hand on the rudder is essential.
Inevitably, it’s not fairly so simple as that and there are confounding elements. For instance, whereas the principles are altering dramatically and the carryover from 2021 to ’22 is negligible, what may be known as the underlying science does translate. Assumptions, processes and information that underpin the present automotive are additionally getting used to on the ’22 undertaking. This implies there’s an additional query groups like Aston Martin should ask themselves when making their useful resource allocation resolution – is that this yr’s unhealthy begin right down to exterior, or inside, elements?
There’ll at all times be a component of each, but when Aston Martin concludes that it’s genuinely the inadvertent sufferer of the change of guidelines with none elementary failures on its half – past maybe the preliminary change to the low-rake idea that was at all times reckoned to have a decrease efficiency ceiling – then there’s little to study. It ought to follow its authentic plan for the cut up of assets, or even perhaps bias it extra in direction of ’22. But when there are particular unknowns which have tripped it up, then it should discover them to keep away from a repeat subsequent yr.
To a better or lesser extent, all groups face this query mark. The temptation will at all times be there to show the deal with a number of extra occasions on ’21 improvement when the potential for a greater result’s close by. That’s going to be a selected problem for Mercedes and Pink Bull, locked in a championship combat, in addition to these contending for management of the midfield. On present type, that’s McLaren, Ferrari and AlphaTauri – though we nonetheless want a number of extra occasions at totally different circuits to be assured of the aggressive order.
Arguably, McLaren is in the perfect place. It had the additional problem this yr of adapting its automotive to the Mercedes engine. Whereas that provided a efficiency achieve, this prevented it utilizing its improvement tokens in different areas. But given the potential pitfalls, it emerged from Bahrain because the midfield chief and might need had an excellent higher haul of factors had Daniel Ricciardo not picked up diffuser harm when he was clipped by Pierre Gasly early on.
McLaren additionally advantages from the great management focus that’s in place. Since turning into group principal, Andreas Seidl has not solely contributed to clear enchancment on observe, but in addition proven the capability for longer-term strategic pondering. Retaining third within the constructors’ championship may be very doable and it’ll doubtless be in that combat all season, however this won’t be a group that will get sucked into compromising ’22. In James Key, it additionally has clear technical management that can concentrate on what issues and due to this fact needs to be thought to be one of many best-placed to strike the fitting steadiness.
However additionally it is a racing group, and the truth that the battle with Ferrari is prone to rage all yr can be a major a part of the story.
“The whole lot that I noticed reveals that Ferrari made a giant step ahead in comparison with final yr, which isn’t sudden” mentioned Seidl. “We by no means underestimate the flexibility of a group like Ferrari, with all of the assets they’ve, with all of the expertise they’ve, to come back again rapidly. They’ve two nice drivers as effectively. We’re merely trying ahead to battling with Ferrari once more this yr.”
Ferrari can be in a difficult place, one which shall be one other stern check of group principal Mattia Binotto’s management. When he took up the function, expectations of him have been sky-high and he made a promising begin, however that gleaming halo has turn into duller over time and Binotto himself has admitted he doesn’t have infinite time to make Ferrari a hit. He set his sights on third within the constructors’ championship because the minimal over the winter, which successfully can be the utmost given it gained’t be beating Pink Bull or Mercedes.
However like McLaren, third place this yr should not be prioritized over a robust begin to subsequent yr. Given the politics at Ferrari, notably with Binotto’s most staunch supporter, Louis Camilleri, standing down as chairman, he shall be feeling the stress. However the lengthy recreation is what issues. Simply as in 2013, these choices shall be a check of management.
It’s the identical up and down the grid, the place the resolve and judgment of each single group shall be examined to the restrict – maybe except Haas, which had successfully given up on 2021 earlier than it even began.
These choices are complicated. The narrative of groups giving up on seasons to concentrate on subsequent yr has been a well-liked one ever for the reason that Honda/Brawn transformation of 2009. However whereas that has at all times been an excessive case and it’s by no means fairly as binary because it appears, there are some similarities with the principles reset of subsequent yr. It’s actually a chance for the institution of a modified aggressive order.
What it’ll check is the capability of groups to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. Is there one thing you may troubleshoot on this yr’s automotive that’s relevant to subsequent yr’s automotive? If that’s the case, there’s a robust argument for doing it. If it’s nearly squeezing one other tenth or two out of this yr, then it’s essential to assume very rigorously.
It’s made uniquely tough this yr by the restrictions of the associated fee cap and in addition aerodynamic testing. With windtunnel and CFD strictly restricted, and the best-placed groups having lower than the weakest performers, all the things you do should rely. Whereas as soon as you could possibly ‘brute power develop’ your option to success, the growing restrictions through the years have made that more durable. This merely makes it tougher.
Whereas no group ought to solely abandon 2021 as a result of there’s at all times one thing to study, they need to lean in direction of accepting short-term ache searching for long-term positive factors. However to get these calls proper, their decision-making should be clear, well-informed and dispassionate.
In any case, these choices are made by human beings. However making the mistaken name now may set again a group for years.