The alarming speed gains that prompted F1's 2021 changes

Formula 1 teams may have to use the same basic chassis this year, but that has not stopped anticipation for some pretty big car changes in 2021.

That is because beyond the natural evolution of designs, there are some new rules regarding floor area and other car components that are aimed at cutting performance.

The target of the changes – which include the removal of an area of the floor and new limits on brake ducts and diffuser dimensions – was to cut downforce by around 10 percent.

It was prompted by the fact that Pirelli's tyres were being put under ever greater stresses by the rampant march forward that teams were making on the performance front.

The gains in lap time, allied to F1's car being the heaviest they have ever been, meant tyres were having to cope with the biggest forces ever experienced in F1 history.

That opened the door for a greater risk of tyre failures, as we saw at last year's British Grand Prix where, with Silverstone being one of the toughest tracks for cars with such high-speed corners, the end of the race was marred by a number of failures.

The only route open for Pirelli to minimise the dangers of repeated tyre failures was to mandate ever increasing minimum tyre pressures – which was great for maintaining the robustness of tyres but is something that teams and drivers hate because they feel like they are having to drive on over-inflated balloons.

With no changes to pull back downforce, there was the risk that, in 2021, teams would, even with the smaller than normal freedoms they have, make gains that could potentially make the situation even worse for the tyres.

As Pirelli's head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola said towards the end of last year about the need for changes.

"Obviously, if we consider that from now to the end of 2021 the ability of the teams to develop the cars is huge," he said.

"We can end up at the end of 2021 with a level of load that is really very high.

"And therefore we are obliged to increase the pressure to where we have again degradation, overheating or blistering at the level that we don't want, so it's the right move to do."

Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren MCL35, heads into the pits with a front puncture

Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren MCL35, heads into the pits with a front puncture

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

But while drivers may rue the fact that F1 cars will get slower this year, a quick look at the data from recent seasons indicates just why the FIA felt it had to react.

If we compare the lap times at Silverstone, because the track layout has been consistent through the recent period, it is clear just how much faster the cars have got.

Here are the pole position times for the British Grand Prix since the start of the turbo hybrid era.

2014: 1m35.766s

2015: 1m32.248s

2016: 1m29.287s

2017: 1m26.600s

2018: 1m25.892s

2019: 1m25.093.

2020: 1m24.303s

While the comparison with 2014 needs to be put in context of that afternoon's qualifying session being impacted by damp conditions, even without that there has been a pretty astonishing level of progress over this period.

Without any changes to the aero rules for this year, the likelihood would almost certainly have been of lap time dipping in to the 1m23s region – which would have meant more stress and strain on the tyres.

The hope therefore is that the aero rule changes, allied to harder and more robust tyres from Pirelli, will drop lap times enough to ensure the sport a troublefree year.

The harder tyres are expected to be one second per lap slower, and many technical experts suggest the floor changes will result in a much bigger drop in lap time than initially suspected.

Read Also:

But, with still a fair amount of time before the 2021 F1 cars are unleashed in pre-season testing in Bahrain, teams will be working extra hard to try to recover any lost ground.

Red Bull has set its sights on it managing to get back to the level it finished last season on.

"The goal is to get to the downforce level at the end of 2020," explained Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko.

"You lose about 20%," he told Auto Motor und Sport.

But, judging by what a number of teams have found in their windtunnels this winter, getting anywhere near the aggressive lap time improvements we've seen in recent years looks to be a very tall order.

shares
comments

Related video

Robert De Niro, John Boyega to star in new Netflix F1 thriller

Previous article

Robert De Niro, John Boyega to star in new Netflix F1 thriller

Next article

The image battle facing F1's 'nice guy'

The image battle facing F1's 'nice guy'
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Jonathan Noble
Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish” Prime

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish”

We’ve seen five distinct versions of Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes as he’s tried to fulfil his own ambitions while being a consummate team player – two difficult, competing missions which have been challenging to reconcile. Speaking exclusively to Stuart Codling, Bottas explains his highs and lows… and why he still believes he can be world champion.

How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean? Prime

How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been evenly matched so far in the 2021 Formula 1 title race. Neither has been afraid to get aggressive against each other on track, teeing up an enthralling contest as the year unwinds. But how long will their battle remain clean? Jonathan Noble ponders that exact point

Formula 1
May 13, 2021
How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner Prime

How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner

The Brabham BT46B raced once, won once, then vanished – or did it? STUART CODLING reveals the story of the car which was never actually banned…

Formula 1
May 11, 2021
The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle Prime

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle

Formula 1’s visits to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over recent years have been met with familiar criticisms despite tweaks here and there to the track to improve racing. With the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix largely going the same way, proper solutions need to be followed to achieve F1’s wider targets

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Often described as Formula 1's laboratory, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona gave the clearest demonstration yet of the pecking order in 2021. And it's the key discrepancies from that order which illuminate who is excelling, and who needs to hit the reset button.

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain Prime

How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain

An aggressive first corner move from Max Verstappen appeared to have set the Red Bull driver on course for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But canny strategy from Mercedes - combined with the absence of Red Bull's number two from the lead group - allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a demoralising reversal

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace Prime

The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace

Lewis Hamilton led the way in Friday practice for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, but there was one major encouraging sign for Red Bull. However, making good on that gain will require Max Verstappen to avoid repeating a mistake that left him well down the FP2 order...

Formula 1
May 7, 2021
Why McLaren doesn’t doubt Ricciardo can escape his ‘dark’ place Prime

Why McLaren doesn’t doubt Ricciardo can escape his ‘dark’ place

Three points finishes from as many starts represents a decent opening innings on paper, but Daniel Ricciardo has endured a tough start to his McLaren career - only magnified his teammate's excellent form. Yet both he and the team have good reason to expect a turnaround soon.

Formula 1
May 6, 2021