Former F1 World Champion Mario Andretti says progress will have been made if the 2022 cars are “30%” better at following.
The series rolled out a brand new set of regulations for the 2022 challengers, marking a huge shift between seasons with cars now returning to a ground-effect aerodynamic philosophy.
Andretti, who won the World Championship in 1978, did so driving the Lotus 79, the first F1 car to rely fully on this aero style, born from Andretti’s experience in the March 701 in 1970 and the side boxes on that car.
Although ground-effect cars were gone from F1 after 1982 due to safety concerns, they are back for 2022 in a bid to reduce turbulence impacting the car behind, therefore allowing drivers to follow each other more closely and attempt more overtakes.
Or at least that is the plan.
Andretti cannot say with certainty that ground-effect aerodynamics will achieve this goal in the modern era, but if it becomes 30% easier for a driver to follow the car in front he would see that as progress.
“As far as I understand it, these cars are supposed to radiate less turbulence to the rear so it’s easier to drive behind each other,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.
“The idea is to generate more downforce under the car to reduce the areas above that produce bad air. That’s why I couldn’t understand why F1 went to wider cars and wings a few years ago. That increased the turbulence and they were even more dependent on DRS.
“Now they are rightly going the other way. But I don’t dare to predict whether that will be enough for the drivers to stay close to the car in front in the corners again. If it were 30 per cent better, that would already be progress.”
While the driving style will, of course, need to change for the drivers once they are let loose in these 2022 cars, Andretti believes little will change beyond that.
“We had to adapt, but it was not more difficult,” he said, speaking from his own experience.
“As with any car, the balance had to be right. If it’s right, you go as fast as the car can go.
“I guarantee the new 2022 cars will feel different for the drivers at the beginning. But otherwise, everything will stay the same. They will try to balance the car optimally for themselves.”
The idea of ground-effect cars is they are sucked down to the road by the downforce, so when they are disturbed, as the bygone era showed, the driver can become a passenger.
But Andretti stressed the drivers must keep confidence, because not fully committing can have the opposite effect and cause the downforce to “collapse”.
“You just have to believe in it,” he said when asked if it was difficult to be confident the car would stick to the track.
“The more downforce a car gives you, the harder it is to correct if the downforce breaks off. It’s not something that is slowly announced. Especially in fast corners, you either drive like on rails or you fly off.
“If the car is not properly pushed, all the downforce collapses abruptly.”
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