The anti-crisis measures launched by the FIA impose strong limits on the development of the cars for the next two seasons. If, on the one hand, the 2020 chassis will also have to be reused in the next championship, on the other, in 2021 a new specification of the components of the power unit may be introduced, although updates during the season have been prohibited. There is still the possibility of developing aerodynamics from one Grand Prix to another, but the reduction of wind tunnel hours and resources for CFD simulations will also affect this aspect.
Obstacles to car development partially freeze performance hierarchies between teams, favoring those who already have a technical advantage and hindering their pursuers. However, the consequences of the new regulations introduce some variables that could revive the next two championships.
The carousel of power units
A major unknown that characterizes the 2020 season is that inherent in the actual length of the championship, the beginning of which is known but not the end. The main impact of this aspect concerns the rotation of the power units. In fact, if the total number of Grands Prix should be equal to or less than 14, the teams would have one unit less heat engine, MGU-K, MGU-H and turbo-compressor available than originally planned.
Also, in a season where updates cannot be made, a variable will be the progressive loss of power linked to the mileage of the power unit. Since the specification will remain the same until the end of the championship, it will not be necessary to bring the engine to the end of its life cycle before the introduction of the new one to benefit from the updates.
The new rules for the Power Unit
Therefore, the importance of planning the rotation of the engines during the season comes into play. The teams will be able to opt for a different strategy than in the past, i.e. to alternate the units available instead of using the same engine for five or six consecutive races. Such planning would be aimed at exploiting on the fast slopes those few extra horses guaranteed by a fresh engine compared to a more used one.
The same strategy was already partially exploited in past seasons, when the teams were mounting the most worn units on slower slopes such as Montecarlo, Hungary and Singapore. In 2020 and 2021, however, the same tactic could be extreme and a diversification between the choices of the teams cannot be excluded.
Finally, with the number of Grand Prix less than the 22 originally planned, the life required of the power units will also be less. As a result, stables will be able to take advantage of more aggressive mappings for a longer period of time.
The race for updates and double GPs
The frenetic 2020 calendar, full of back-to-back and with extremely close races, will put further pressure on the implementation of aerodynamic updates in the factory. Postponing the introduction of the news even for just two weeks will inevitably lead the team to persist in a disadvantage compared to the competition, for one or even two Grand Prix. On the other hand, a higher development speed will place for some races in a condition of technical advantage.
These are the same dynamics also present in 2019, but the condensed structure of the 2020 calendar heightens its importance. Furthermore, the reduced number of events gives greater importance to each of them, which is why an update introduced with an advance Grand Prix will have a greater weight than in the past. In 2020, therefore, the speed and quality of factory work will play a crucial role.
Another novelty for next season is the presence of double races. There are currently two planned, in Austria and England, but the number could increase with the publication of the second part of the calendar. Racing on the same track a week later is an unprecedented scenario for modern Formula 1 and opens up new possibilities.
In fact, the teams will be able to perfect their set-up choices in view of the second Grand Prix based on the data collected in the previous one. In a similar way it will be possible to review the strategies, taking into account the actual levels of tire degradation experienced during the first weekend. This twofold aspect will introduce some variables in what, however, are preparing to be races with very similar dynamics.
Coming to the repercussions on individual teams, Mercedes is the one that apparently can benefit most from the limitations to development, thanks to its technical superiority. On the other hand, the problems with the oil system highlighted in the Barcelona tests pose a question mark on the Anglo-German team and on the customer cars fitted with the same engine. In the event that the critical issues are not resolved in time for Austria, with the freezing of the power unit and the chassis, remedying could prove to be a more difficult undertaking than expected.
Recent development restrictions hinder Ferrari, who during the tests highlighted power problems, also feared by the statements of Mattia Binotto. The race at the Red Bull Ring will show at the same time the actual extent of the delay and how much the work done since February has managed to remedy.
At center-group, the Racing Point looks like the team able to benefit most from the new regulations, thanks to an excellent initial project inspired by the Mercedes W10 2019 world champion. As in the case of the Silver Arrows, however, much will depend on the resolution of the power unit problems.
The variable of the new fund
Finally, the introduction of a resized bottom is expected for 2021, which will lead to a reduction in the downforce. The teams will therefore be forced to work with a different approach from the traditional one, called to adapt an existing single-seater to an imposed change outside.
The main difficulty will be the search for new ways to seal the bottom of the car, which will not have slots for the generation of lateral vortices and those used to manage the tire squirt of the rear wheels. Secondly, the aerodynamic balance of the car is altered, which will require appropriate countermeasures to avoid problems of oversteer or understeer. These are two consequences not to be overlooked, which could potentially reserve surprises in the hierarchies of the next season, despite the freezing of the frames.
New fund in 2021: an unknown factor not to be underestimated
There Red Bull is called to a great effort to stem this modification, given the car with an accentuated angle of rake, aimed at optimizing the efficiency of the bottom and the diffuser.
The switch to Mercedes engines instead constitutes a double-edged sword for McLaren. On the one hand, in fact, the Woking team will be able to make some changes to the car, thus having an additional tool to react to the new fund. On the other hand, the Mercedes power unit introduces a further external change to adapt to, since the single-seater was designed according to the Renault engine, its dimensions and the relative distribution of weights.
In conclusion, the changes to the 2020 and 2021 regulations severely limit the possibilities for team development, partially freezing the current hierarchies. However, some side effects of the changes themselves introduce variables that undermine the certainties of the stables, reviving the dynamics on the track and the expectations towards the championship that is about to begin.