Why F1 hopes not to repeat the mistakes of 2009
Formula 1 officials have no illusions: the new rules for 2022 are not perfect. The FIA recognized that some things could have been done better. However, there remains a firm belief that when the new F1 cars are first launched in Bahrain, the new rules will achieve the goal of improving racing.
And, while it is inevitable that some details will need to be fixed in the long run, there is some confidence that F1 will not repeat the scenario of 2009, when new rules aimed at facilitating overruns did not reach their goal.
What went wrong in 2009?
The last time F1 rewrote its regulations with the aim of improving racing and encouraging overtaking was in 2009. While much of the work done by the Overtaking Task Force (TDG) at the he era helped to make things better, there were also some major unintended consequences which meant that their efforts were quickly undone by the teams.
The double diffuser of the Brawn BGP 001 in 2009
The 2009 season is the one best remembered for the history of the Phoenix Brawn GP, to which one of these unintended consequences is intrinsically linked. Along with Williams and Toyota, the new team arrived at pre-season testing with a two-stage diffuser, flirting with the letter and intent of the regulations.
The rest of the grid protested and demanded that this design be banned. But the FIA gave the green light and everyone was forced to follow suit.
Comparison of the 2009 Ferrari F60 and the 2008 F2008
The purpose of the 2009 regulations was to restrict all ancillary aerodynamic devices that had developed around cars during the previous era. The aim was also to redefine the characteristics of the front and rear wings, with a taller and narrower rear wing intended to deal with turbulence a little differently. It was hoped that this would help the cars to follow each other better.
As for the front wing, the FIA has not only made it wider so that it interacts differently with the front wheel and its drag, but it also has more control with a neutral center section. The aim was for this 500mm zone to prevent the teams from using the central part of this piece to create support, as they had done before.
However, this decision indirectly created fertile ground for what is commonly referred to as the « Y250 vortex ». This has become an incredibly powerful tool that teams have leveraged to power downstream airflow structures and improve overall single-seater performance. It helped make the cars even more susceptible to turbulence up-stream, as any disturbance caused the Y250 vortices to not perform as well as they would in clean air.
The 2009 regulations also allowed teams to use a driver-adjustable front wing device, which teams had spent development resources on but which quickly became obsolete. It was replaced in 2011 by DRS, on the rear wing this time, which is still used today.
A large majority of teams had housed the mechanism needed to adjust the front wing in their endplate, but this prevented them from having an increased level of complexity when it came to the design of the latter.
Cutaway view of the 2009 McLaren MP4-24 front wing adjuster
If we compare the front wing of the McLaren MP4-24 (above) with that of the Brawn GP BGP001 (below), we see that the adjuster is housed at the inner end of the flap, which gives them more flexibility in their end plate design and therefore more opportunities to deviate the flow.
2009 Brawn BGP 001 front wing
Originally, the GTD had also expressed a desire to remove the spoilers from the cars, as it was obvious that they had great aerodynamic power. However, the teams lobbied to keep them and they won.
2009 McLaren MP4-24 deflectors
Problems fixed in 2022?
The work carried out on the 2022 regulations builds on the fundamental principles of the amendments made in 2009. But, while these rules were not prescriptive enough and were presented in a format similar to that of the previous texts, these new rules were written from scratch.
This, as well as a better mastery of certain aspects of the design which will now be the same for everyone, should increase their chances of success. But we will have to wait a little longer to find out to what extent the teams have circumvented the initial intention in their quest for performance.
Nikolas Tombazis, FIA chief, is confident enough time and effort has gone into crafting the rules to ensure teams don’t end up derailing the positive goals that prompted the overhaul.
The 2022 car
Asked about the prospect of reliving the situation of 2009, Tombazis is convinced that everything will be better this time around. « Looking back, there are a couple of things we would have done a little differently, but I won’t tell you [lesquelles] », he said of the current regulatory framework.
« But compared to the work in 2009, fundamentally it’s clear that a lot less detail went into it, and the key things learned during that work were correct. They thought a lot about how to understand the phenomenon. [qui empêche les voitures de se suivre] and what to do. »
« But where it failed was after. The rules were just so stuffed with freedoms that within weeks of wind tunnel testing – and obviously I was on the other side of the fence [en tant qu’ingénieur Ferrari à l’époque] — we had totally undone all the good things that had been thought of. »
« The rules were written in such a way that, if you wanted to, you could make a car that was easy to follow, but was quite slow. Or you could make a fast car that totally ignored all those things. We tried to ‘Learn from it and establish rules that are inevitably more restrictive, but hopefully not so diverging.’
« But I’m sure there will be areas where we conclude that we may have made a mistake or may need to make an adjustment. »
Group photo of the 2021 drivers around the 2022 car