Reigning World Champion Max Verstappen believes the stiffness of modern F1 cars has taken “a little bit of magic away” from a driving perspective.
F1’s technical regulations were overhauled ahead of the 2022 season with the aim of promoting closer racing, with the new ground effect cars replacing the extreme-downforce machinery on show from 2017.
Whereas the previous cars were revered by drivers as record lap times tumbled, the current generation has proven harder to love.
With his team restricted to just a single race win under the new rules, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff recently described the ground effect cars as “rubbish” following a dreary race in Azerbaijan.
After winning his maiden title in 2021, Verstappen has hit new heights under the new rules with the Red Bull driver winning 18 of the 27 races since the start of last year.
Yet the Dutchman is in agreement that the current cars leave a lot to be desired compared to their predecessors – pointing to suspension stiffness as a major drawback, with the weakness most noticeable on street circuits.
“I think they are a bit more stable when you’re following [another car],” he explained to reporters in Miami.
“Now when you lose downforce, but it’s a bit more understeer, a little bit more oversteer – nothing really drastic.
“I think that improved, but because of the stiffness of the cars, and how you have to run them, it takes a little bit of that magic away, especially on a street circuit where you could ride a kerb here and there.
“That probably is a bit tough around Baku, but also around Singapore, that makes it very hard.”
The heaviness of current cars has become a common complaint among drivers with modern power units, 18-inch wheels and such safety measures as the halo pushing the weight from around 600 kilograms in 2009 to roughly 800kg today.
F1 is hopeful of reducing car weight in its next technical transformation with Verstappen seeing it as a priority – but, he admits, it is difficult to imagine how exactly those weight reductions will be made.
“I think in general, what we have to try and get away from it – but it’s very hard – is just a weight increase,” he said.
“When you jump back in an old car, and you go out, you definitely feel the difference in how agile an old car was. But that’s like early, for me, early 2010.
“Before that, they were even lighter, right? So, I don’t know how we can solve that. Also the bigger wheels, they’re quite a bit heavier as well. So that for me goes in the wrong direction. But I don’t know what we can do about turning it around.”
As time goes on, F1’s 2022 rules revolution looks increasingly futile
Closer competition and more exciting racing were the promises when the most thoroughly researched rule changes in F1 history came into effect in 2022.
How’s that going 27 races into this new era?
In truth, not great.
The effect on the racing was instantly noticeable in 2022 as cars were able to follow more closely, but that didn’t count for much at the end of a season in which Red Bull won all but five races.
And now Red Bull’s advantage has only increased in 2023, winning all of the first five grands prix, the racing isn’t up to much either.
A surprising rate of car development, so much so that Pirelli now want to introduce a tougher tyre construction mid-season, and the tweaks to the floor/diffuser to control porpoising have been cited as potential reasons behind the tamer spectacle in 2023.
If either theory contains even a hint of truth, they point to a potential lack of futureproofing back when the 2022 rules were devised.
The more raceable cars may have worked a treat at the very beginning of a new era – but what about the long term?
What of 2023/24/25? Was there a way for the benefits of the 2022 rules to be retained even as the teams’ understanding grew, downforce was recovered and performance began to skyrocket?
Finding a catch-all solution, one immune to the natural improvement of cars over time, must be a key consideration for any rules reset going forward, or Pat Symonds and his merry men risk becoming F1’s answer to King Canute – pointlessly trying to hold back a tidal wave of downforce washing away their best-laid plans.
F1 was in as good a place as it had ever been at the end of the previous rules cycle in 2021 in the wake of the titanic battle between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
Would it have been such a bad thing to leave it as it was?