“Both changes were decided during the first lockdown because we didn’t know what was going to happen and we decided to work in two directions,” Isola said. “But I believe that it was the right direction to develop a new construction in order to cope with the additional loads of the cars, because during the season this 4/5% that is still missing is going to be more, and we know that in one year they usually gain roughly 10% in downforce.
“So at the end of the year we will probably have cars with 5/6/7% more downforce than last year. I’m confident that with the new construction, obviously it was designed for these conditions and the additional loads.”
When you’re making a change that is likely to impact on the competitive order, you surely make the one that impacts the fewest teams you possible can. Mercedes and Aston have been the two most vocal pointing to the changes, but they’re also up against two power unit suppliers who have made significant changes too in the form of Ferrari and Honda.
When we look at the time lost by each team using their best qualifying laps in Bahrain in 2020 versus 2021, we get the following list:
That’s right, the top two teams are Ferrari-powered, the next two are Honda. Then one of the outliers – McLaren – switched from Renault to Mercedes, while the other – Haas – has already said it is doing very little in the way of development and is running two rookies.
It’s entirely plausible that a combination of the upgraded power units and the new regulations led to the turnaround, but even if it is all pinned on the downforce cuts – and therefore a coincidence that the three Mercedes-powered teams are clumped together near the bottom of the list after running at a power-sensitive track – it has hit multiple teams to varying degrees.
Mercedes and Aston are the most vocal, while Williams point to a high wind sensitivity and Alpine suggest they just need to do more floor development. But when just 20% of the grid are complaining about a change, I’d say the rule-makers have done a pretty good job of minimising the disruption.
Ferrari and Honda both appear to have made engine gains – could this have also contributed to the performance swing?
Grand Prix Photo
At Imola, we’ll get the chance to see another comparison between a track used fairly late in 2020 and early in 2021, and some different data from all of the running we’ve had in Bahrain so far. The longer the season goes on, the better the picture that will start to emerge.
But even if it is rake philosophies that prove to be the main differentiator, it’s hardly a massive scandal. Rule changes impact everyone one way or another – sometimes enormously and other times it’s barely noticeable.
If it leads to a more competitive season with great drivers fighting it out on track in relatively equal machinery, and we’re not talking about tyre safety concerns, then it has been a very good change.