Formula 1 cars were likely to outgrow Pirelli’s tires and perhaps even the circuits themselves if changes to the aerodynamic regulations had not been introduced for 2021, according to Mercedes technical director James Allison.
There has been a lot of carry over from 2020 into this season after major new technical regulations were delayed by a year in order to reduce costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while many aspects are frozen, aerodynamic changes to the edges of the floor, the rear brake ducts and diffuser have been implemented in order to slow cars down, and Allison says it was necessary to prevent performance levels exceeding the infrastructure the cars need to work in.
“It’s been a really unusual, unfamiliar but intense winter development period for this new car,” Allison said. “The decisions taken many, many months ago back at the beginning of the COVID pandemic where the sport decided quite pragmatically that aspects of the 2020 car would be carried over into 2021 and so we found ourselves in this very, very unusual position over the winter of not having all the normal stresses and strains on the organization of the huge production effort of making a new chassis, making all the mechanical internals of the new car because many of those aspects of the W11, our 2020 car, were simply inherited in 2021 by the W12.
“So, we didn’t have to make them afresh and that’s been a weird feeling for the organization, not to have that familiar rhythm of the new car in all its glory. But I say intense, because although bits of this car have carried over the challenge of getting it ready for a new season has been every bit as difficult as it normally is because a lot has changed.
“Probably the most intense and difficult thing for us is reacting to the aerodynamic changes that come for 2021. There was a concern that if we left the aerodynamic development of these cars unchecked then the performance would just keep increasing, as it has been doing it for a number of seasons now. It would keep increasing to a level where the cars would just simply outgrow the tires and perhaps even aspects of the circuits.
“There was a good need to bring the performance down a bit from the cars so that they would be able to go into the (2021) season with the mechanical packages designed for 2020, and be confident that the performance of the car would be matched to the physical infrastructure that the car was built around.”
Allison believes the changes have the potential to take the cars back around two years in terms of their outright performance, although teams will look to negate that as much as possible.
“The combination of those four effects in their rawest form — just cut off and trim back in a way that the rules require — brings the performance of the car way back to sort of somewhere near 2019 levels,” he said.
“It’s been our challenge over the weeks and months since those rules were set in stone to try to recover as much of the performance as possible. That has been quite an entertaining ride in the wind tunnel and in CFD, to try and make sure that we get that performance as far as possible back onto the car.”