Despite some early scepticism from drivers, F1’s technical chief Pat Symonds thinks the sport’s new regulations have provided a “breakthrough” in following and overtaking.
The point of the major rule changes for 2022, which means entirely new cars, is to make racing tighter and more competitive – and a key element in that is the ability to follow a rival at close proximity and execute a pass.
That was something that had become more difficult in recent seasons due to a loss of downforce in the ‘dirty’ air.
In pre-season, the opportunities to trial overtaking are limited with only one car per team on track at any time and different run plans in progress, but George Russell and Lando Norris both said the slipstream effect had been reduced when they had a little dice in Barcelona.
However, Symonds, Formula 1’s chief technical officer, is encouraged by what he has seen so far at the Circuit de Catalunya and in the official Bahrain test.
“When you are testing, you try not to get close to other cars, you try and keep your own counsel really, and good separation,” said Symonds in an interview with F1 TV.
“In Barcelona, I spoke to a lot of drivers and asked them about how they felt the cars were when they were following. All of them were very complimentary, those who had followed, and of course a lot of them hadn’t.
“But Alex Albon I think gave me the most interesting answer because he said he had to recalibrate, he had to rethink, because he couldn’t believe how close he could get to the car in front. And that’s the best vindication of these quite major changes we’ve done, I think.
“I think we’ve made a really fundamental change – we’ve made a breakthrough.”
Symonds did agree with Russell and Norris about the slipstream effect, but insisted that had been outweighed by the increased ability to follow another car.
“It’s not as strong,” he said of the reduced tow. “The thing is, you can’t have everything. We have to, unfortunately, even in F1, obey the laws of physics, which I find very annoying sometimes but we have to do it!
“And of course if you are trying to put good quality air onto the car that’s following, that air will have more energy in it. It has more energy and [while] it’s produced the downforce, it will also produce the drag. So you haven’t got quite the slipstream effect you had.
“But that’s minor compared to the change in downforce you need through the corners and everything. I think we will still get the overtaking on the straights.
“I think we will still need DRS, I hope a little bit less, and my dream one day is we only use it to overtake backmarkers rather than fighting for position.”