Formula 1 more often shaken by regulation changes: what can we expect in 2022?

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Formula 1 is undergoing one of the biggest metamorphoses in years this year. New aerodynamics and new tires should allow for more overtaking than in previous years. It is certainly not the first time that Formula 1 has undergone a major rule change and over the years such a change has caused quite a bit of landslides in the rankings. What does history say about what we can expect in 2022? F1Max figured it out.

To discover a possible historical trend in ranking shifts, we look back at the five most recent major rule changes. Those are 1998, 2005, 2009, 2014 and 2017, to be exact. During these years, some significant changes took place that also had a significant impact on the ranking. One team was hit harder than the other, while there were also plenty of teams that were not negatively affected, or even benefited. First, we look at the impact of rule changes on teams that won Constructors’ Championships the year before the changes.

Influence of regulation change on previous constructors champion

Years Previous Constructors Champion Rules change wins Wins after rule changes Final position after regulation changes
1997-98 Williams 8 0 3
2004-05 Ferrari 15 1 3
2008-09 Ferrari 8 1 4
2013-14 Red Bull 13 3 2
2016-17 Mercedes 19 12 1

Williams won the 1997 Constructors’ Championship with eight wins. The following year there was a rule change that reduced the width of the cars and replaced the slick tires with grooved tires. The cornering speed was reduced as a result, to promote the safety of the sport. The rule change did not help Williams at all. The 1998 car turned out to be no match for the equipment of McLaren and Ferrari, who ruled Formula 1 that year. Williams therefore fell back behind the two ‘new’ top teams and played no significant role in the title fight. .

Ferrari only really got going at the beginning of this century and won everything there was to win with Michael Schumacher until 2005. For that year it was decided that teams were only allowed to refuel during a pit stop. Add that to the tire war between Bridgestone (the supplier of Ferrari) and Michelin (the supplier of Renault and McLaren) and Ferrari’s dominance was over. The red cars of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello had to drive extra economically with their Bridgestones due to the change to the pit stops, which did not benefit the performance. Renault and McLaren did not need this on their Michelins and took advantage of it.

Ferrari was said to be more competitive in 2006, when that rule was scrapped, and held out until 2008, when the Scuderia last won the constructors’ title. In 2009, the cars were thoroughly overhauled, destroying Ferrari’s success again. The slicks returned, the front wing got bigger and lower, the rear wing thinner and wider and the complex aerodynamics on top of the car? It was banned, just like in 2022. Brawn GP, ​​formerly Honda, took full advantage and thanks to a loophole, it was even possible to drive with a double diffuser. Ferrari dropped to fourth, while Brawn took the victory with Jenson Button. Red Bull Racing suddenly became the second best team, after driving in midfield for years.

Red Bull and not Mercedes, the later namesake of Brawn, became the dominant factor from 2010 and that was negated in 2014. The V8 engines were exchanged for V6 hybrid turbos, which significantly increased Mercedes’ competitiveness. Red Bull had a too slow Renault power source, but was still second behind Mercedes. The German stable was so dominant that no one else came close and Red Bull did not sink too far back in the pecking order.

In 2017, Formula 1 got bigger in everything. The tires, the front and rear wings: they all increased in size and so did the amount of downforce. Was it an attempt to break Mercedes’ dominance? Who knows, but that didn’t work anyway. Unlike other years, Mercedes, which also won the title in 2016, remained the best team. Ferrari came close and Sebastian Vettel seemed to be able to take on the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, but it was the Englishman who still pulled the longest straw.

So it’s clear that the rule changes over the years had a significant impact on who was successful or not, and how much a team slumped as a result of such a change. It is therefore interesting to see how the Constructors’ champion’s performance after a rule change differed from that of the year before the changes.

Influence of regulation change on new constructors champion

Years New Constructors Champion Rules change wins Wins after rule changes Final position for rule changes
1997-98 McLaren 3 9 4
2004-05 Renault 1 8 3
2008-09 brawn* 0 8 9
2013-14 Mercedes 3 16 2
2016-17 Mercedes 19 12 1

*Brawn was still called Honda in 2008.

McLaren broke through Williams’ dominance in the 1990s in 1998. The former family team won five of the six constructors’ championships for 1998. With Mika Häkkinen behind the wheel of the MP4/13, McLaren recorded six more victories than in 1997 and the team from Woking jumped from fourth to first place in the championship. However, Ferrari remained the second team in 1998, after it had already been the case in 1997.

Renault took full advantage of the unfavorable rule change for Ferrari in 2005 and drove to the world title with Fernando Alonso sovereign. Kimi Räikkönen had to be beaten with his McLaren and that also shows the progress the two teams made in that year. In 2004 Renault and McLaren were the third and fifth team. In 2005 they were by far the two best teams, as Ferrari and Schumacher were no match for Renault and McLaren due to the tire rule.

Brawn, still Honda in 2008, took full advantage of an aerodynamic loophole in 2009. Ross Brawn’s team outsmarted the competition with a double diffuser. 2009 may have caused the biggest landslide when you look at which teams were the best that year. Brawn made a huge leap from ninth in 2008 to the title in 2009, while Red Bull climbed from seventh to second. McLaren and Ferrari, still the leaders in 2008, fell back to places three and four. BMW Sauber, the third team in 2008, was only the sixth team in 2009.

Red Bull became the best team from 2010, but could not continue that dominance in 2014 when Mercedes turned out to have a street length lead in the engine area. However, Mercedes and Red Bull swapped places in the Constructors’ Championship that year, with Williams following behind Christian Horner’s team. That was striking, given that Williams finished ninth in the constructors’ championship in 2013.

Mercedes continued to be the team to beat after the rule changes of 2017, breaking the tradition of losing the lead after a change. Ferrari was able to compete for the title, if only for one half of the season. Then Mercedes turned out to be just too strong. However, Toto Wolff’s team had to make do with six victories less than in 2016, when 19 of the 21 races were won. In 2017 there were ‘only’ 12 of the 20.

In 2017 Mercedes broke with the tradition that a dominant team is no longer the race stable to beat after a rule change (Photo: Mercedes AMG F1).

Regulation changes often cause permanent damage to constructors’ champions

The most notable point from the statistics is that the constructors champion’s number of victories before a rule change decreases significantly the following year – with 1998, 2005 and 2014 being the biggest examples. Regulation changes seem to cause relatively much permanent damage for previous constructors’ champions. For example, Williams has not won a title since 1997 and Ferrari has also been dry since 2008. McLaren won the drivers’ championship in 2007, but has since failed to make a serious attempt to win the title. Ferrari is the only team to recover quickly after a rule change. In 2006, when the tire rule was scrapped, the World Cup was immediately a realistic goal again. Despite this, Alonso again won the title with Renault that year.

Mercedes is the only team not to suffer permanent damage after a rule change. Although the Silver Arrows took a beating in 2017, their dominance was only diminished, not negated. Until 2020, Mercedes ‘just’ won the championships that could be won. Only in 2021 could Red Bull break through the dominance with Max Verstappen. The Austrian team has also not won a World Cup for eight years, after Vettel won four titles in a row between 2010 and 2013.

Red Bull and Mercedes could fall behind

Due to that permanent damage, it remains to be seen whether Mercedes and Red Bull will be the best teams again in 2022, with such a significant rule change. You can’t rule out the possibility that they will, but the 2021 title race may have influenced the development of the 2022 car. Ferrari, McLaren and perhaps also Alpine and Aston Martin, have often indicated that they have focused on the development of the 2022 car. Mercedes and Red Bull may have done this to a slightly lesser extent, which could put them behind the competition.

Ferrari, McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin could historically make the step forward. Just look at the cases of McLaren in 1998 and Brawn in 2009. Both teams climbed from (the top of) midfield to the absolute top of the entire grid. Ferrari and McLaren seem to be the main candidates to make such a jump in 2022. Good sounds are coming from Maranello in particular. The new and rumored super-light engine is said to perform as expected, despite the new E10 fuel which resulted in the loss of dozens of horsepower, and the car has already passed the crash test. Less is known about Mercedes and Red Bull, although the latter seems to have lost about twenty horsepower due to the new synthetic fuel. Red Bull and Mercedes have been warned. If they are not in good shape from the start, that could well be the case for the coming years.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton battling for the win? With a bit of bad luck, this could be a thing of the past in 2022. Red Bull Racing and Mercedes have to be sharp from the start if they don’t want to fall behind (Photo: Pirelli).

More wind tunnel time with lower classification: is Red Bull catching up with Mercedes?

This year there is one more factor that can have a major influence on the ranking: the time that teams are allowed to spend in the wind tunnel. The thing is, the higher you finished in the previous Constructors’ Championship, the less time you get in the wind tunnel. Mercedes will therefore have the least time, because they became champions. Haas, who finished last last year, gets the most time of all teams. This rule was introduced so that the lower ranked teams have a greater chance of catching up with the competition.

With that knowledge in their pocket, Red Bull should on paper catch up with Mercedes. After all, thanks to the second place in the 2021 constructors’ championship, they will have more time in the wind tunnel. But, as mentioned, the lower-ranked teams have even more time in the wind tunnel and Ferrari and McLaren can therefore benefit more from this leveling measure than Red Bull. Alpine and Aston Martin will also see their chance to catch up to Ferrari and McLaren again. It therefore promises to be a very interesting season and a year that is currently even more unpredictable than the previous seasons.

Terrence Riepma (Twitter: @TerrenceRiepma | e-mail: [email protected])


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