A look ahead to 2021 and beyond – the ever-changing face of F1

Date published: September 19 2018

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Every year brings changes in regulations, in design and in the format of the world’s premier motor racing series.

Sometimes those changes are false steps – who can forget the revised qualifying format that was binned after just one race in 2016 and described as “pretty crap” by then F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone? Others, such as the halo introduced for this season might well have already saved the life of a future F1 champion.

Bernie might still be a familiar face around the paddock, but these days, it’s Liberty Media that calls the shots, and the company has already circled 2021 on its calendar as a watershed year for the sport. Closer racing, better environmental sustainability and a more even share of the spoils to give all the teams a chance to truly compete. It sounds like the stuff of dreams, but is it really achievable? Let’s take a look at the proposals in a little more detail.

Capping costs

Fans are desperate to see a fair fight in which every team has an equitable chance of success. They look back to days gone by when the likes of Cooper, Brabham and Tyrrell could essentially do as they wished and spend what they had. As a result, predicting a winner was a little like going into one of the sites on Casinoshark and predicting where the reels would stop or the ball would land on the roulette wheel. There are fears, therefore, that cost caps only stifle innovation and prevent the teams from developing the very best cars.

The trouble is, times have changed since the days of Colin Chapman and Bruce McLaren. Teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault throw millions into R&D. How can the likes of Claire Williams, heading up one of the last remaining privateer teams compete against that?

The fact that Williams continues to survive when the likes of Tyrrell, Arrows and Brabham have long fallen by the wayside is something of a miracle in its own right, but without some kind of financial controls, the days of the privateer must be numbered.

When the topic was first raised in Bahrain last year, Claire Williams said: “Obviously whenever you talk about cost caps there are going to be winners and losers, aren’t there? And it’s about compromise at the end of the day.” Weeks later, Ross Brawn was interviewed by Sky Sports and while he refused to be drawn on the number, he did comment that the cap would not include driver salaries and marketing costs.

Sharing the spoils

Most race fans assume that F1 revenues are distributed on the basis of points earned in the preceding Constructors Championship. If only things were that simple. While their position in the championship is certainly a factor, Ferrari, Williams, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren also receive bonuses for a variety of reasons relating to their historic performance.

If that sounds a little wooly, it’s because that is exactly what it is. Liberty Media and the FIA are planning a simple, fair and transparent system from 2021 onwards, where revenues are purely based on performance and are awarded equally to the team and the engine supplier. So teams like Mercedes and Ferrari that use their own engines would get two payments, while for teams like Torro Rosso, the payment would be split between them and Honda. The idea is to attract new engine suppliers to the sport, and legendary British brand Aston Martin is strongly rumoured to be one that will enter the fray in 2021.

Engines

On the subject of engines, the hybrid power units that are currently in use are little short of a technological miracle when you consider how far they have come in so little time. Development costs have been immense, and for this reason alone, a major change of direction is extremely unlikely.

Nevertheless, there are refinements to be made. Fans miss the raw sound of the old engines, and everyone concerned with the sport is well aware that something is not right when drivers are “coasting” at 85 percent for part of the race in order to conserve fuel. In short, the engines are likely to be simpler, louder and with some of the fuel restrictions lifted. There are also plans to introduce standardised batteries to further reduce costs.

Aerodynamics

When it comes to the look of the cars themselves, we are still very much at the fortune telling stage. Nevertheless some images that were leaked from a seminar in Singapore last week make for intriguing viewing.

They depict a lower, sleeker looking car, with less complex bodywork and far narrower front wheels. Even more intriguing is the fact that the rear wing and engine cover seem to be joined. Could this spell the end of DRS? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, 2021’s cars will be very different to the ones we see and hear today.