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Why F1 teams have thrown their R&D plans "out of the window"

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Why F1 teams have thrown their R&D plans "out of the window"
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Jun 17, 2020, 6:24 PM

The enforced break from racing and the factory shutdown applied to all Formula 1 teams in the wake of COVID-19 has forced everyone to revise their original development schedules.

Indeed, Racing Point Formula 1 team boss Otmar Szafnauer says that the Silverstone outfit's original R&D plans for the RP20 and its successor are now "out of the window" – and he adds that the pink car will be unchanged from its Melbourne spec when it races in Austria next month.

The shutdown from March to the start of June meant that there was no opportunity for teams to do any development for their 2020 cars, and also they had no new information from track running with which to progress. So the usual step-by-step upgrades have not been coming through the system.

In addition, the goalposts have moved as the chassis and many other key elements of the current cars are frozen, and will be carried over to 2021. 

Thus for the first time teams are not embarking on a completely new car while racing the current car, so the usual schedule of gradually moving the R&D focus to next year's model during the summer no longer applies.

"It's all out of the window," Szafnauer told Motorsport.com of Racing Point's original development plan.

"We certainly haven't had any time to upgrade the car at all between Australia and Austria. In Austria we are going to run the car that we were planning to run in Australia.

"It's really, really difficult to restart now and bring anything to a race before Spa, and even Spa and Monza is going to be difficult.

"So we're looking at an upgrade for the second half of the season, if indeed we do get eight more races, and I hope we do.

"But I thought we had a good car in winter testing, and generally if you're decent in Barcelona you've got a decent aerodynamic package, and you can race well at other places too."

Planning for 2021 is completely different from the regular schedule, and the teams have to work around the freeze system.

"When you have the freedom to do a whole new car, you find a lot more, so our hands are going to be tied," said Szafnauer.

"We're going to be in July when we start racing. Usually by then you're well on your way to producing next year's chassis. So it's going to be completely compressed, which again will have an impact as to what we do this year.

"We can't change much for 2021, but you can continue to develop the car aerodynamically."

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Teams are allowed to use tokens to modify a frozen item that they don't want to be stuck with – but that process starts soon, and they have to inform the FIA of their intentions next month, three days after round three in Hungary.

"We have to notify the FIA pretty soon on what we're going to use the tokens on," says Szafnauer.

"We'll use those tokens appropriately, and then once we use them we'll probably have to re-optimise the car a little bit around the changes that we're going to make.

"So we'll have to change the model and start running the new configuration in the tunnel. That will all be for 2021, so I can't see big upgrades for us this year.

"You still have to do the work, so we will make some of the changes that the two tokens will afford us, and then even if it's small optimisation work, you have to do it, and that's what we'll focus on pretty soon."

That longer term view in turn compromises work on the 2020 car: "I think it's just the time that is compressed now that won't allow us to do both, to start work on next year's car with a little bit of change that we can do, as well as develop this year's car.

"We only have a finite amount of time in the tunnel, and that's being reduced as well, and now we don't have the latitude to do what we generally would have done for next year.

"But even if you have the latitude, you don't have the time. Here we are in June and we've missed tunnel time all the way from March. Now trying to do a little bit for this year and a bit for next year, you don't really have the tunnel time."

Despite the obvious frustrations that the limitations cause for the aero guys who want to make their car quicker Szafnauer concedes that there's a bigger picture in the difficult circumstances.

"It's the right thing, because if you're in the tunnel a lot, it just drives expenditure. You have to spend money on model parts, and they're usually machined or 3D printed, or made of carbon.

"They're not cheap, and then once you've found some upgrades you then have to make them into real parts and put them on the car, make old real parts obsolete, and make six or seven sets of them because you're doing triple headers all the time.

"If you have accident damage you don't have the two weeks in between the races to replenish your spares, You have to have your spares in the first place. So the whole thing will be a little bit different."

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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Series Formula 1
Author Adam Cooper