Red Bull’s second place in 2021 gives them a test advantage for 2022

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Red Bull Racing and Mercedes have had one of the toughest title fights ever, but can’t dwell on it too long. The development of the 2022 cars has already started at the beginning of 2021, and is now being aggressively continued. However, not every team can take the same big steps during the current winter break. Last year F1 introduced test restrictions that will affect Mercedes the most. In theory there is therefore room for Red Bull to catch up with the German competitors.

Test restrictions have already been introduced in Formula 1 for the 2021 season. Before 2021, the teams could make unlimited use of the wind tunnel, which greatly increased the development speed, but also cost a lot of money. It went as far as teams using more than one wind tunnel to accelerate the development of the car. Nice for the performance of a team, but not a sustainable way of working from a financial point of view.

That had to change in 2021 and for that year, teams could only perform 65 runs per week in the wind tunnel. In addition, the teams were also restricted in the use of their CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics, ed.) software. In addition to the wind tunnel tests, fewer simulations could therefore be run of the consequences possible aerodynamic adjustments had on the lap times. So costs were reduced in 2021, but Formula 1 wanted more. There was a scale based on the final ranking of the Formula 1 teams.

Heavy in 2021, much heavier in 2022

In 2021 that was tough for the top teams and pleasant for the lower-ranked participants. Alpine, which finished in fifth place in 2020, was allocated the full 100 percent of test time. For every team that finished higher than the French stable, 2.5 percent of that test time was deducted per position. Mercedes was in the winter break of 2020 so only 90 percent of the test time of Alpine. The teams behind Alpine received 2.5 percent per position lower. This was F1’s first attempt at leveling the field, which, looking at the final results of 2021, has been mediocre. After all, Mercedes and Red Bull were head and shoulders above the competition, and Red Bull’s competitiveness was mainly due to the fact that the revised aerodynamic regulations of 2021 better suited its high rake philosophy.

For the 2022 season, and beyond, the sport continues to limit testing time. The test time of the team that finished in P1 is severely shortened and the steps to midfield and the rear are doubled. For example, there is no 2.5 percent, but no less than 5 percent difference between the permitted development of each final classification. Mercedes, which finished first in the standings in 2021, will therefore feel this regulation change hard, harder than competitor Red Bull. Below is a list of what this means per 2021 final classification and per team.

Final ranking in 2021 and team Percentage of aero testing allowed for 2022-2025 Amount of wind tunnel hours per week
1. Mercedes 70 28
2. Red Bull Racing 75 30
3. Ferrari 80 32
4. McLaren 85 34
5. Alpine 90 36
6. AlphaTauri 95 38
7. Aston Martin 100 40
8. Williams 105 42
9. Alfa Romeo 110 44
10. Haas (and any new teams) 115 46

In practice, this means that the top teams get much less wind tunnel time than the rest of the grid. One hundred percent of testing time is equivalent to forty hours in the wind tunnel a week, and with each step up or down that takes two hours off, or two more. Haas will therefore be almost on Mercedes’ test time in 2022! At first, those two hours seem to make only a marginal difference per final ranking, but those hours are calculated per week. During twelve weeks of winter break and the necessary tests that are carried out therein, Mercedes misses 24 hours, a full day, of test time compared to direct competitor Red Bull.

Red Bull should in theory catch up

What are the consequences of these changed test regulations? That question cannot yet be answered with certainty. At Formula 1, they talked to Jason Somerville, F1’s head of aerodynamics. Somerville, who has worked with others to shape the new technical regulations, does not expect the development gap between the top teams and the rest of the grid to be as large as this gap appears on paper. “When a team like Mercedes or Ferrari gets less wind tunnel time, they will certainly feel it, but it has to be said that time in the wind tunnel is not equally valuable for every team.”

“It can be argued that a Mercedes wind tunnel is more efficient because the team’s aerodynamic group has more financial support and is stronger,” said Somerville. Because all kinds of wind tunnel processes have been optimized by Mercedes over the past few years, the reduced test time does not necessarily mean that they are deteriorating enormously compared to the rest of the field. So it will probably be a disadvantage, but not as big a disadvantage as the reduced test time before the winter break suggested.

However, this theory does not hold in principle for the gap between Red Bull and Mercedes. Red Bull has also been working with advanced equipment for years and the team from Milton Keynes has spared no expense in recent years in the search for time savings. So there will be little difference in efficiency between the processes of the two teams, but Red Bull can spend an extra two hours a week in the wind tunnel. If Max Verstappen’s team knows how to exploit this advantage, there is room to catch up with title competitor Mercedes.

The changed aerodynamic regulations of 2022 make it difficult to estimate which team will emerge victorious. In the past, such a rule change has shown that it could cause quite a stir in the field, with F1 teams outsmarting the competition with clever aerodynamic tricks at the start of the year. Tomorrow (Sunday 9 January), F1Maximum will take a closer look at how such a rule change has worked out in the past and what the implications are for the 2022 season.

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