Designed to provide more downforce when following a rival car closely, the true impact of the 2022 Formula 1 regulations will be seen in the pit strategy.
Entering a new era of Formula 1 regulations, the margins between manufacturers have dwindled from the top to the bottom of the grid.
This still has to be taken with a grain of salt, given the acting performances and withholding of performance throughout preseason testing.
What is certain though is an overall lack of knowledge among teams regarding the new regulations and a far tighter gap from leading pace to backmarker pace in the dawn of the new season.
Alongside an overall closing of the competition, the most exciting portion of the regulations for fans and drivers alike is an aerodynamic package with the sole intent of generating more downforce while closely trailing another car.
While projected to make a noticeable difference in modern high-speed sweeping corners, the only projected tradeoff was a reduced slipstream which could be recovered by Drag Reduction System (DRS).
Compromising wheel-to-wheel racing in Formula 1 since 2017, high-downforce monsters generating swaths of unusable air have run rampant, creating unrecoverable gaps between cars.
This led to race leaders commonly fighting amongst themselves with little involvement from midfield contenders hampering their pace during the crucial phases of pit stops.
This should hopefully be an element of modern racing left in 2021.
Throughout the season-long championship bout between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the beginning of the race would be comprised of separating from the remainder of the pack so that the two could duel one-on-one in open air with competing tire strategies.
For this to take place, the two drivers would need to create approximately a 25-second gap to the next car (depending upon the given “pit loss” of the track) to return to clear air.
Such a gap could even be procured against respective teammates Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez in (theoretically) identical equipment, but with a midfield that has closed the gap to the contenders, this commonplace element of strategy could be no more.
The “undercut” is one of the most effective strategic tools in all of motorsport, never mind in Formula 1 where track position is determined by hundredths of a second. Now if a leading car is to attempt an undercut on a given rival, they will not only be at the disadvantage of initially cold tires, but also whatever traffic may lay ahead of them on pit exit.
This will not only place an emphasis on the “overcut” to avoid such traffic but also bring previously unimpactful drivers and teams into the championship battle as influential factors. This adds a level of dynamism that has been seen in minimal quantities in recent seasons as championship contenders sprinted ahead of the rest of the field.
Potentially even more promising, if there is a split in tire strategy between teams in which frontrunners elect for an added pit stop, strategies will come together at the closing stages of the race, with slower cars fighting to defend their track position in machinery that, as mentioned before, places a focus on downforce when following another car.
The back-and-forth battle of Hamilton and Verstappen captivated us all throughout the 2021 season, contrasting the pace of fresh rubber to track position throughout the calendar. But now we have an even more entertaining form of pit strategy in which teams must consider their rivals up and down the grid, anticipating the impact of slow traffic on crucial out laps, which can influence the end result of any given race.