It’s not unreasonable to consider the 2020 Racing Point car to be the first produced by a new team. Last year’s effort was effectively ‘year zero’ for the well-backed operation given that certain key decisions, including continuing with the 2018 gearbox and suspension, had to be locked in before its financial situation became stable following investment from a Lawrence Stroll-led consortium.
Of course, this is not a new team, as the core that made it so successful against the odds as Force India remains. And there’s every chance to expect a big step forward this year with what technical director Andrew Green has called “a blank sheet of paper”. The team switched to using the Mercedes windtunnel in the middle of last April, so can reap the full rewards of a car designed using it and its boosted resources with the unavoidable limitations of last year no longer a factor.
“We are not planning on carrying anything over, which is a first for us,” said Green. “The whole change of ownership was around July/August 2018, so at that point we made the decision on the architecture of the 2019 car. We didn’t know what our resource was going to be, and made the decision to be safe.”
With plans for an all-new car and the hangover of the Force India days now cleared, the new Racing Point is one of the most eagerly-anticipated new cars.
Last season, Toro Rosso leaned more on big sister team Red Bull’s resources, including running cast-off 2018 rear suspension, and gearbox and front suspension internals. Expect the team, in its new AlphaTauri guise, to continue to maximize the use of non-listed parts after a big change to the way it works – including phasing in upgrades more progressively rather than relying on several big packages – yielded its best season since the heady days when Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix. Jody Egginton, appointed technical director last year, has played a big part in the shift in emphasis.
Toro Rosso was the first to show off the unloaded front wing design last year and had a car it understood well from the off. It has seen the potential of a loaded version in the windtunnel, but whether it inches more in that direction to chase greater load depends on getting full control of the airflow, which is hugely complex in this area given the proximity of the rotating and ever-moving front wheels.
Beyond that, expect an evolutionary approach for a team that, on and off track, has made a virtue of focusing its limited resource where it most counts and piggy-backing on Red Bull Racing’s success.
Team principal Frederic Vasseur describes Alfa Romeo as a “young” team, which seems a stretch for a Sauber operation that has been on the grid since 1993. But he’s correct in that it’s a ‘regrowing’ team, benefiting from the investment the Alfa deal brought and growing its operation.
Alfa Romeo is among the group of teams that probably needs to be relatively conservative with its car concept and ensure it doesn’t send itself down the wrong path. With 2021 on the horizon, it can’t afford to get lost with the car. The back end of last season was concerning in that the team struggled to get on top of the significant upgrade introduced at the Singapore GP in September. It flew at Interlagos in November, but struggled elsewhere. That was the result of a package that was introduced in one hit rather than progressively (by necessity rather than design), so perhaps shouldn’t be taken as a team that doesn’t understand how its car works. But it did cause confusion.
Alfa started last year with the most extreme interpretation of the unloaded outboard load concept, which helped it to overachieve in the first half of the season. How far it inches towards gaining greater front load will be a sign of how confident it is in its growing aero department.
One big boost is that F1 has ditched its mooted 2020 tires. Alfa was one of the teams that struggled with the aero characteristics of the new rubber, so stability should prevent that being a problem.
Last year was an often-baffling disaster for Haas, sometimes qualifying strongly but racing dreadfully despite having been best of the rest in pre-season testing and the Australia season-opener.
There was lots of griping about tires early in the year, but as is usually the case, this was believed to be primarily an aerodynamic problem. The front end of the car was strong, it was usually very good in fast corners across a range of conditions, but in slower corners and at higher temperatures it struggled, particularly in race trim.
The good front end, combined with a tendency for the rear downforce not to be delivered in lower-speed corners, points to the likely source of the problem. For the change in front wing regulations, Haas went for the loaded front wing and appeared to lack the ability to manipulate the airflow consistently. It’s no coincidence that the midfield class leaders all went unloaded. While that’s inevitably an oversimplification, it does get somewhere close to the heart of the problem. It meant a car that was unstable into lower-speed corners, and all attempts to eliminate that instability often dialed in understeer.
So when the new Haas appears, as well as its new post-Rich Energy livery, look to the front wing (albeit with the caveat that sometimes launch cars have old-spec wings) for hints of a change in approach.
Last year’s Williams didn’t look right from the off – when it finally appeared. The first positive sign for the team will be the car hitting the track at the start of testing on February 19, given the car finally crept out two days late last year. That should be an easy task, especially given the team has overhauled its process management systems to ensure things don’t get away from it.
Beyond the car existing in time, the other thing to look out for is the packaging. Last year’s car featured a bulbous engine cover, which was a consequence of some muddied thinking over the cooling package. In a torrid pre-season that also led to the departure of chief technical officer Paddy Lowe, Williams also had to modify its rear-view mirrors and front suspension. These errors must be avoided at all costs.
A back-to-basics approach is what Williams needs now. The hope is that the aero direction set last year, which inevitably required a ‘two steps forward to go one step back’, was always going to deliver more this year. But the fact the team fell short of its own expectations for improvements as the season progressed is a concern. A conventional, neat and tidy car should be enough to get Williams back in the midfield fight.