Pat Symonds: Adrian Newey’s main fear of new regulations did not come true

Thomas Maher
Adrian Newey with an open book. Saudi Arabia December 2021.

Formula 1’s Pat Symonds has said Adrian Newey feared all the cars would look the same under the 2022 regulations, due to their restricted nature.

F1 introduced revolutionary new rules for the 2022 season, the culmination of over three years of research and development to pad out the new technical regulations to move the cars away from a primarily over-body downforce model to that of ground-effect.

The main focus of the rule change was to reduce the amount of turbulent air created by the cars, in order to encourage closer wheel-to-wheel racing, and for longer.

But the restrictive nature of the rulebook meant that even the most seasoned of car designers were initially unconvinced by the proposed rule changes.

Pat Symonds, F1’s chief technical officer, has revealed that Adrian Newey, who designed the dominant Red Bull RB18 that swept the first year of the new regulations, had feared uniformity across the grid.

“There was scepticism in the field,” Symonds told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

Adrian Newey initially feared that all cars would look the same because the rules are so restrictive. But they weren’t. Do you remember the sketches we showed in Austin in 2019 at the presentation of the new rules? Without working out the shapes constructively, we just wanted to demonstrate that there is indeed freedom in different areas of the car. We’re glad we were right. 

“Some even came very close to our sketches. I would say cars are more diverse today than before, although many would probably still have trouble recognising all cars if they were painted black.”

Having initially rolled out the new rules and seeing all 10 teams reveal their designs, Symonds said homework had been carried out by F1 to ensure the spirit of the regulations had been adhered to by all the teams.

“After the first races, we took stock,” he said.

We couldn’t see anything on the cars that would have damaged our concept. A few things were definitely more radical than we thought. For example, the Mercedes. We later tested and reviewed the concept in CFD and I have to say that the shape of the Mercedes is easier to follow than the other cars.

The Aston Martin rear wing was also something we didn’t expect. I see a risk in this idea that it could go the wrong way if the idea is pursued further and pushed to the limit. I expect the FIA ​​will ban that for 2023.” (The design has since been banned)

While the new rules have largely been hailed as a success, the outright speed of the cars has taken a hit – the 2022 designs being around one to two seconds a lap slower than what the 2020/21 cars were capable of.

With Pirelli working hard to introduce a stronger front tyre that will dial out some of the inherent understeer the ’22 design instilled, Symonds believes the laptimes could fall dramatically in 2023.

“That could happen as early as next year,” he said, when asked when the cars might match the lap times of 2021.

Now the engineers know what factors make the car slow. They will be expanded next year. The big picture will remain. These cars will always be faster in fast corners and slower in slow ones.”

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