2021 F1 Regulation Changes: The Lowdown

2021 F1 Regulation Changes: The Lowdown

This post is all about the 2021 F1 Regulation Changes. In F1, there are always a considerable amount of regulation changes, from one year to the next. The FIA devise the changes before the beginning of the year when they will be applied. Regulation changes can affect any area of Formula 1. They can affect the chassis, engine and aerodynamics of the car. They can affect the penalty system, protection of parts, and financial matters. When designing and making a new car for a new year, teams always try to take advantage and make the best of the regulation changes.

READ MORE: F1ntastic.com’s Guide To Formula 1

This post is all about the 2021 F1 Regulation Changes, and this post is actually shorter than how it would’ve been if it was about the regulation changes of a previous year. The last year has been very unusual an pretty much every way, all thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 saw new tracks and new races coming to Formula 1. But 2020 also saw a lot of new regulations, which is a normal regulation change. This is because the changes were devised in 2019. Also, the regulation changes are mainly important for when the teams are building and testing the new car for the new year. In 2020, the pandemic was not a threat until near the 1st race of the season.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, things are tougher for the teams. Less personnel are allowed on-premises, and social distancing and other safety measures are in place. On top of that, teams could be under more financial stress, both due to the pandemic and due to the spending cap that I will talk about later in this post. So to make things a little easier for the teams, the FIA and F1 decided to reduce the regulation changes for 2021. For example, teams have carried the 2020 chassis of the car into 2021, without having to make any compulsory changes. So let’s get into what has changed for the 2021 F1 regulations, beginning with the aerodynamics of the car.

2021 F1 Regulation Changes – Aerodynamics

The biggest regulation changes coming into 2021 are the aerodynamic regulation changes. Aerodynamics is the study of the motion of air, especially when affected by a solid object. In Formula 1 cars, aerodynamics are extremely important. Formula 1 cars travel at really high speeds, meaning they face a lot of air resistance, so how the air is flowing through the car is very important in slowing the car down and giving the car enough grip and downforce to travel through corners at high speeds. Without the advanced aerodynamics that F1 cars have, F1 cars would be much slower and less capable of attacking corners at the high speeds that they do.

READ MORE: F1 2020 Season

Last year, Formula 1 cars were the fastest cars in the history of the sport. They had the most advanced aero and the most downforce and overall speed of all of the F1 cars in Formula 1 history. In fact, they were a little too fast. The FIA and Formula 1 were getting a little worried that the cars were outgrowing the circuits and outgrowing Pirelli’s tires. That’s why this year, the FIA introduced new aero regulations. These new aero regulations slowed the cars down, as we saw in Pre-season testing.

Trimmed Floor With No Incisions Or Slits

2021 F1 Regulation Changes: Floor
This diagram shows the floor changes between the 2020 and 2021 cars.

The most major downforce reduction has come from the floor regulation change. The new regulations state that a certain area of the floor must be cut off. The floor will have a more slanting edge, rather than the straight edge that it had last year. The floor area has been reduced, which means that there is less air going under the car. When there is less air under the floor, the air pressure above the floor is comparatively lower, which creates less downforce. Because more air pressure and more air pushing the car down makes more downforce and grip.

Also, the floor cannot have any slits or incisions. Last year, the floors had complicated slits that allowed air to go through the slits, under the floor, and through the diffuser, creating more downforce. This year, the teams can’t incorporate those in their cars. The FIA made these regulations to make this year’s cars around a second or a second and a half slower than last year’s cars.

Diffuser Fences 50mm Shorter

There are also small changes made to the diffuser fences of the car. The fences, which are quite close to the ground, will be cut and will be 50mm shorter. This makes a noticeable reduction in downforce since the diffuser creates around 50% of the car’s downforce. When the fences are close to the ground, they are able to create a more effective “aerodynamic seal”, as described by Mercedes Technical Director James Allison. When the cars lose the fences, they are further away from the ground, thus reducing the amount of downforce generated.

Rear Brake Duct Winglets Span Reduced By 40mm

The final change aimed at reducing downforce is the shortening of the rear duct winglets’ span. In 2021, teams must reduce the span of the rear brake duct winglets of their cars by 40mm. A seemingly small change, but it reduces quite a bit of grip and performance from the car because the winglets are powerful devices. These winglets are meant to maintain the stability of the rear-end of the car. They manage and redirect the massive air resistance that can cause a lot of turbulence around the rear tires. The winglets managing the turbulence is a powerful tool, and now their span has been reduced. So now the winglets cannot manage and redirect the air as effectively, which is not good for the rear-end stability of the Formula 1 cars.

So, we’ve highlighted the key changes to the aerodynamics of the 2020 Formula 1 cars that the teams have incorporated into their 2021 cars. These changes, put together, bring the cars’ speeds back to the speeds of the 2019 F1 cars. These new regulations have shaved off 10% of the downforce generated by the 2020 F1 cars. However, there are still more changes to go through.

Many Aero Changes Permitted

The 2021 F1 Regulation Changes have made Mercedes revise their floor design.
The 2021 F1 Regulation Changes have made Mercedes revise their floor design.

Aside from the mandatory changes, teams are allowed to make extra changes to their aero to boos performance. This year, teams have been trying to find innovative ways to recover the lost downforce while staying within the regulations. The biggest example of this is Mercedes’ new floor design. They have incorporated multiple changes to the floor that are completely legal. With these changes, they are trying to recover some downforce for the rear end of the cars. The bottom half of the image on the left shows that Mercedes has added some fin-like structures to their floor. This directs air towards the outside of the wheel, over the wheel. The top half of the image shows a sort of ripple-style innovation by Mercedes. The underfloor has a ripple shape just under and after the sidepod.

The ripple/wavy floor creates vortices of air. A vortex is when a liquid or gas moves in circles. On the anterior Mercedes’ floor, the waves create clockwise vortices of air that go down the outer edge of the floor and seal the car to the ground more effectively. Aston Martin is using a similar design, with fewer waves, and waves placed further towards the sidepod. Although it seems that these innovations are to improve downforce, they don’t seem to be working. The Mercedes W12 showed massive instability on the rear end in pre-season testing. But we’ll see Mercedes’ true pace at the Bahrain GP this weekend because this wavy floor is quite the innovation.

Mercedes aren’t the only teams who made aero changes. McLaren and Ferrari, who have clearly improved in pace, have made changes to their diffuser designs. Red Bull have found their weaknesses from last year, and have changed the design of their nose, their sidepod and their rear suspension. Red Bull’s changes, which were aimed at increasing rear stability, have had a significant effect. However, Red Bull seem to have been incredibly efficient with their changes, because they didn’t exactly have a lot of time to test their changes in the wind tunnel…

Sliding Scale Aerodynamic Testing Regulations

To allow competitiveness and to reduce the spread between the top runners like Mercedes, and the slower teams like Williams. This new sliding scale gives more aero testing time to teams finishing lower in the championship and less time to the teams finishing higher up. The table below shows the exact details of how much aero testing is allowed. Aerodynamic testing involves running cars in the wind tunnel, and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) runs. These both allow teams to analyse the aerodynamics of their cars and to test how well new parts or just the car would cope on track, and whether the car has good, efficient aerodynamics.

The effects of this sliding scale will be even more prominent and effective from 2022-2025, as the higher teams will lose a lot more time for aero testing. Could teams like Renault, Ferrari and AlphaTauri have planned 2020 with this change in consideration? It is very much possible, especially because these 3 teams’ pace has clearly improved when their testing pace is compared to their general pace last year.

Teams’ previous season’s championship positionPercentage of current aero testing allowed for 2021Percentage of current aero testing allowed for 2022-25
190%70%
292.5%75%
395%80%
497.5%85%
5100%90%
6102.5%95%
7105%100%
8107.5%105%
9110%110%
10+ or new team112.5%115%

Next, we move on to changes made to the regulations regarding the weight of the cars.

Pirelli’s New Tires and Minimum Car Weight Changes

As I mentioned earlier, Pirelli and the FIA thought that the F1 cars outgrew Pirelli’s tires. The cars were simply too fast. While the FIA reduced the aero and the speeds of the cars, Pirelli made some tire changes as well. Pirelli made stronger, heavier and more durable and grippy tires for 2021. This was especially influenced by the punctures from the 2020 British Grand Prix. Formula 1 teams tested these more robust tires last year in Friday Free Practice Sessions. And they also got a taste of the new tires in Pre-season testing.

Another change in terms of Pirelli tires is the removal of tire choices. Unlike last year, this year, teams can’t choose what tires they get for the race weekend. There is a set batch for all drivers. This set batch includes 2 sets of hard tires, 3 sets of medium tires, and 8 sets of soft tires for each driver. For many F1 fans, this is not a good thing, because many fans like the variety in tire choices. They can play a major part in the race and qualifying strategies.

These are the tire compounds that teams can use for the races this year. Photo by: Pirelli

Since Pirelli’s new tires are heavier than last year’s tires, the FIA has changed the minimum weight of the cars. The minimum weight for F1 cars is now 752KG, which is 6KG heavier than last year. The minimum weight for the engine/power unit is now 150KG, which is 5KG heavier than last year. These increases have also helped teams reduce the costs for building the parts of the car.

First Mandatory Cost Cap

For the very first time in F1 history, there is a cost cap for all teams. This is a major part of the 2021 F1 regulation changes because details about the cost cap have been circulating in the F1 world since 2019. This cost cap isn’t the strictest cost cap in the world, because many costs are not included in the budget. But we’ll get to what’s not included later.

First of all, let’s look at the actual budget for 2021. The maximum budget for the teams is $145 million, which is a MASSIVE reduction for teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. These top teams spend close enough to a WHOPPING half a BILLION dollars every year. But after the cost cap, these teams can have to reduce their budget by around $350 million, which is a big challenge for a top team.

To matters even more tougher for them, the cost cap will go from $145 million to $140 million in 2022, and to $135 million in 2023. In my opinion, Formula 1 have made a smart decision my introducing the cost cap. This makes the field spread a lot smaller and brings the top teams much closer together. However, there are some things that are not included in this cost cap.

Obviously, the salaries of the drivers are not included. If they were, then the cars would be terrible. The salaries for the Top 3 highest paid Team Members are also not included in the cost cap, and neither are the marketing costs. For next year, the cost cap is tightening, but teams are already investing massive amounts of money in next year’s cars in order to handle the major regulation changes. But these investments are not included in the cost cap. Also, until the end of 2024, the teams have $45 million to invest in new factory machinery. So you can see that the cost cap isn’t as major and as effective as it seems.

However, the general running of an F1 team, including fabricating and assembling the car, managing facilities, and almost all of the team members’ salaries, are all included in this cost cap. Let me know in the comments below what you think of this cost cap! Do you think it’s effective enough and that it’s the right decision?

New Parts Protection Regulations To Avoid a Pink Mercedes Repeat

In pre-season testing at Spain last year, rumours were racing around the F1 world. The Racing Point RP20 looked shockingly familiar to us. That’s why it earned its Pink Mercedes nickname; it was based on the all-conquering 2019 Mercedes F1 car, the W10. The nose, the overall look of the car, and the pace of the car were ringing a lot of bells. But the part that got Racing Point in trouble was the brake ducts. Racing Point purchased information from Mercedes about their brake ducts in 2019. In 2019, it was allowed to use that information. But in 2020, the brake ducts became a listed part, so it wasn’t allowed to use that information. Renault lodged a protest about the brake ducts, and Racing Point were fined a lot of money, and they lost 15 constructors’ championship points.

In 2021, it is not possible at all for a repeat of the whole RP20 issue. The FIA have altered the 2021 F1 Technical Regulations and introduced the following rules:

“Although it is permissible to be influenced by the design or concept” of a rival team’s car and its individual, exclusive components (called ‘Listed Team Components’, or LTCs, in the regulations), any information used to create your own car’s parts “must potentially be available to all competitors” and “only be obtained at events or tests” – i.e. through the use of standard photography, observation, videos and so on, rather than teams being able to strike deals to have access to another competitor’s LTCs.

Additionally, the rules have moved to outlaw teams “reverse engineering” another competitor’s car, which means that teams cannot reproduce a competitor’s part. There is also a ban on the use of 3D cameras to scan other teams’ machinery.

Mercedes’ Innovative Dual Axis Steering (DAS) System Banned

The 2020 Formula 1 Season hadn’t even begun, and Mercedes had already taken their competitors by surprise. In pre-season testing last year, an Lewis Hamilton’s onboard footage revealed that he was pulling his steering wheel forwards, and then pushing it back to it’s original system. As you can see from the Tweet below, Mercedes didn’t reveal what DAS actually did.

But the main theory is as follows. As mentioned before, pulling the steering wheel back activated the Dual Axis Steering System. The toe of the front wheels, the tips of the front wheels, turned in and straightened up. Usually, the front wheels are in a toe-out setting, where the toes are pointed out and against each other. When there is toe-in, there is more turn-in and the front end is more snappy. When it is toe-out, the car is more stable, but the front end is less responsive.

DAS didn’t turn the toes in, it straightened the toes up, so the Mercedes drivers aren’t using it in the corners. Besides, when Hamilton used DAS, he deactivated the system at the end of the straight. While we don’t know exactly what DAS did, it could be allowing heat to get to the outer edges of the tyres. This could be important, as it is difficult to do that, and it will be easier to heat the tyres on an out lap in practice or qualifying. But Mercedes were more likely to be using the device for the opposite reason to the reason above.

DAS was reducing the toe-out, which would stop the outer edges of the front tyres from heating up. That would spread out the heat across the width of the tyre. This will reduce the tyre wear and increase grip and durability for the tyres, and the Mercs may have also been able to achieve higher top speeds. At the same time, there could be maximum stability in the corners when you deactivate the system. This is quite an innovative system, and Mercedes did a great job of pushing to keep their car at the top.

The FIA saw this, and despite Red Bull lodging a protest, the FIA ruled it legal for 2021. But the 2021 F1 Regulation Changes, unfortunately, included a rule change making DAS illegal from 2021 onwards. DAS was part of the steering system and didn’t exactly make changes to the suspension when the car was in motion. But the FIA want to make racing more competitive and fairer to all competitors, which means that Mercedes can’t use this innovative device that shocked their competitors.

All Practice Sessions Are Now 60 Minutes Long

All practice sessions are the same length of 60 mins for 2021. Previously, Free Practice 1 and FP2 were 90 minutes long, with FP3 being 60 minutes long. But in 2021, all practice sessions are 60 minutes long. So teams lose a vital hour of practice sessions. Practice sessions allow drivers to get to grips with their cars, and to completely familiarise drivers with the track before qualifying and the race. But practice sessions are very important for the teams because the drivers who are racing on track collect data, and the teams use the data they are getting to see how the cars are performing, and to finalise a car setup that the cars will have for qualifying and the race.

Losing an hour of practice is a big loss in Formula 1, but it encourages more uncertainty and excitement for qualifying and the race. It also means more on-track action in practice sessions, because the teams have no time to waste.

New Eco-Friendly Materials Can Be Used

We’ve arrived at the final one of the 2021 F1 Regulation Changes. Formula 1 is on an important mission to make the sport an eco-friendly sport. By 2030, Formula 1 wants to have net-zero carbon emissions, which is a massive goal. In 2025, F1 is going to introduce fully sustainable and eco-friendly engines, while making sure that they’re still powerful and that the cars are still fast. But in 2021, they’ve made a step to improve sustainability. Teams can now use the following materials for whatever reasons they wish: Flax, Hemp, Linen, Cotton and Bamboo. F1 uses a lot of metals and materials that are mined and are not eco-friendly, so F1 and the FIA are trying to introduce more eco-friendly materials.

So there you have it; you guys know all about the 2021 F1 Regulation Changes. Now you guys can enjoy and understand Formula 1 even more, and understand the new dynamic that these changes have made in F1. Racing has finally commenced at the Bahrain Grand Prix, where we’ll see whether Mercedes are truly behind Red Bull or not. Stay safe, and stay on the lookout for new posts!

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