Mercedes is hoping to completely offset the deficit it faces in wind tunnel and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) usage compared to its competitors as a result of winning last year’s constructors’ championship.
New rules this year allocate teams’ wind tunnel and CFD time on a sliding scale, with the previous season’s winners receiving around 20% less development time than the team that finished at the bottom of the standings. The change comes at the same time as a $145 million cost cap is introduced, and while Mercedes technical director James Allison calls adapting to the new financial regulations “a huge body of work,” he also explains how Mercedes has been trying to react to the limitations placed on it in terms of aerodynamic development.
“For the first time we now have an allowance of use of our wind tunnels that varies from competitor to competitor,” Allison said. “We have for many years now been limited in the amount that we were allowed to use the wind tunnel and the CFD. The limit in the past has always been the same for all competitors, whereas for 2021 that has changed and now we get a different allowance depending on how successful we were in the previous season.
“So, the way that this regulation works is that basically the last-placed team in 2020 is allowed their wind tunnel about 20 percent more than the first-placed team, and everyone in between is on a sliding scale between that 20 percent and what the first-placed team gets. We were lucky enough to be good last year and unfortunately, we pay the price for that a little bit in 2021 and beyond, because we get to use less of that fundamental asset – the wind tunnel and the CFD computers – compared to our competitors.
“For us the challenge has been, how do we react to this new regulation in the most positive way? How can we make sure that we don’t get tripped up by it? And there the challenge has been, well, if we are not allowed to use as much of our wind tunnel and our CFD as we were previously, how could we adapt our world so that we get more and more out of every single opportunity in that wind tunnel? We only got one run in the wind tunnel, let’s make that run as valuable to us as possible. If we are only allowed to do a small amount of CFD calculation, let’s make it so that the methodology and approach to those CFD calculations are as valuable as possible.
“We’ve tried to adapt our approach to this, so we mitigate and maybe even completely offset the effect of this reduction in the amount that we are allowed to use these fundamental tools.”
Allison said the combination of the new wind tunnel rules, cost cap and smaller changes to the technical regulations all add up to a major challenge for teams this year.
“If you are looking at this new season of 2021 and you are thinking it is just going to be a carry-over of what we saw in 2020, well, don’t be fooled by anyone who is telling you that,” he said.
“The rules are very, very different for 2021 – the work we’ve had to do has been very wide-reaching, and we hope we have done enough to stay successful. But as ever at this time of year, we are just full of the anxiety and excitement of waiting to find out whether all this investment that we have made into the new car will indeed pay off with a challenger that is capable of fighting from the front.”