F1’s regulation change for 2022 has still seen the issue of ‘dirty air’ return, with steps unlikely to be taken until 2026’s regulation change.
The unwanted ‘dirty air’ side effect of car aerodynamics improved significantly with the change to a ground-effect-based formula at the start of 2022, with a reduced emphasis on overbody downforce creating less wake turbulence for cars following behind and allowing for closer racing.
But with the regulations maturing in 2023, following cars are estimated to lose more than 30 per cent of their downforce compared to some 20 per cent during 2022 – the conditions for racing worsening as a result of grey areas in the regulations being exploited by the teams.
Nikolas Tombazis: Aero loopholes weren’t closed soon enough
Speaking to select media in Abu Dhabi, FIA head of single-seaters Nikolas Tombazis explained how the situation has deteriorated from the start of the regulation cycle in 2022 – although the circumstances are still nowhere near as bad as they were with the previous generation, which are estimated at having lost some 50 per cent downforce while following closely behind another.
“The wake has definitely got a bit worse this year,” Tombazis said, as quoted by Autosport.
“We knew that it would deteriorate a bit when people develop it a bit more. There were a few particular areas of the car where some loopholes we didn’t manage to close soon enough worsened.
“For example, the front wing endplate area was one of them. Some of the wheel furniture area, the brake ducts, on the inside of the front wheels. These areas made the wake a bit worse. We’ve learned a bit how to do it next time around.”
Interestingly, one of the provisions that was explained ahead of the current regulation set being introduced was that, if car designs that go against the objective of the rules – intentionally or not – the FIA could take steps to alleviate the problem through the Technical Regulations.
Article 3 of the Technical Regulations addresses this, saying its objective “is to enable cars to race closely, by ensuring that the aerodynamic performance loss of a car following another car is kept to a minimum.”
This has already been used to outlaw designs, such as Aston Martin’s rear wing that they showed up with at the Hungaroring in 2022, as well as a Mercedes front wing endplate from late 2022 – both of which resulted in regulation rewording to ensure they couldn’t be used.
But it appears no such steps will be taken ahead of the next major regulation change in 2026, with Tombazis explaining that the situation is unlikely to get any worse than it has in 2023 as initial gains were made in the new regulation set.
“I don’t think it’s going to get much worse for next year,” he said, pointing out that thermal degradation from the tyres is proving a similarly potent issue.
“It’s a combination. The fact that the wake worsened a bit also goes together with degradation.”
With a mooted tyre blanket ban now firmly consigned to the scrapheap for now, Tombazis said Pirelli’s ability to focus on improving the thermal degradation curve on their products could make a far bigger difference than rushing through aerodynamic tweaks.
“One of the key objectives during testing in 2024, especially now that we’ve clarified that there’s no chance of taking off the blankets for 2025, will be to improve the thermal degradation characteristics,” said Tombazis.
“Most of this comes from the fact that cars nowadays basically put into the tyres the highest energies that we’ve ever seen. And that’s one of the reasons that for 2026 we’re considering lower downforce cars and also to save weight.
“We believe that will also make it much more possible to have tyres that are a lot less prone to have this phenomenon in 2026.”