2021 was supposed to be the year of sweeping changes to Formula One and usher in a new era of cars and really shake up the entire field.
But the global COVID-19 pandemic, the postponement of last year’s championship and the temporary shutdown of operations and factories pushed back the dawning of this new era to 2022, and instead Formula 1 decided to carry over the car designs from last season into this one.
But the cars won’t be exactly the same as 2020, as we’ve already seen during last weekend’s pre-season testing, with new names, new designs and new faces in Bahrain.
Here’s all of the changes allowed ahead of the new F1 season…
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With budgets shattered and the new regulations pushed back after the pandemic, F1 has introduced development tokens to avoid teams overspending to upgrade their cars and risk financial ruin.
Each team has been given two development tokens to restrict development in controlled areas of the car, while still allowing for performance improvements to try and reshuffle the pack. It also allows teams to adapt to aerodynamic rule changes introduced this year.
Teams cannot develop the controlled areas of the car outside of their token spend and there’s no do-overs. If you make a change and it doesn’t work out, there are no second chances.
The FIA has clearly laid out a list of components and areas that teams cannot develop at all between the end of 2020 and the end of 2021, and what they can develop with the tokens.
It has provided a list of parts which can be upgraded using the tokens, and the value of each upgrade – on or two tokens. So, in theory, a team could spend both of its tokens on upgrading the same part of the car if it wasn’t done right the first time, or two different parts once. Or a larger part once, costing both tokens.
Single-token components include DRS, clutch systems, brakes, fuel and hydraulic systems and pit-stop equipment.
Two-token components include development of the survival cell and impact structures, gearbox, driveshaft, inboard front and rear suspension, wheel rims and electrical looms.
Then there are also areas which are allowed to be developed without any token spend, including side impact structures, aerodynamic components, suspension and cooling systems.
McLAREN’S SPECIAL DISPENSATION
Aussie Daniel Ricciardo will be making his debut with new team McLaren come the Bahrain Grand Prix at the end of the month and he’ll be doing it powered by a Mercedes engine for the first time.
McLaren had been with Renault power units last season but were always planning to switch to Mercedes for the 2021 in conjunction with the new regulations – and while the regulations were pushed back, the new deal with Mercedes was not.
That meant that they needed to be given special dispensation by the FIA to make the modifications needed to introduce a new power unit into the existing chassis.
However, the changes will cost McLaren both of its development tokens, meaning it cannot develop anywhere else where tokens are required.
The FIA has kept a close eye on McLaren’s changes to ensure they are just for fitting the new power unit and not changing something else purely for performance gain.
It led to concerns from McLaren that they could fall behind in the midfield race as a result but initial takeaways from testing is that this may not actually be the case as Ricciardo ended up topping two of the three morning sessions.
Due to a big loophole in the regulations, Aston Martin has been allowed to adopt the 2020 Mercedes rear suspension without spending any tokens, something which McLaren is not happy about given its had to use both of its tokens.
The reason for this is because while gearboxes and rear suspension upgrades require a token spend for 2021, it does not apply to teams that use year-old gearboxes and suspension – and Aston Martin, then operating as Racing Point, was using Mercedes’ 2019 version last year meaning it won’t cost them any tokens to upgrade.
Racing Point had already copped plenty of criticism, and a protest to boot, from its rivals in 2020 over attempting to replicate Mercedes’ 2019 aerodynamic vision and this latest gain isn’t going to make them any more popular.
The loophole is one also being used by Red Bull’s sister team Alpha Tauri, leading then Renault executive director Marcin Budkowski, now Alpine, to say “the system has some flaws, unfortunately, there’s a loophole there that would allow a couple of teams to benefit from the system.”
SHROUDED IN SECRECY
A number of teams are keeping their cards very close to their chests and haven’t disclosed what they’ve spent their tokens on for the new season.
Mercedes and Red Bull have been especially coy in what they’ve done to modify their cars for the new season before taking to the track in Bahrain last weekend.
Technical director James Allison admitted this was due to wanting to prevent other teams from copying their designs.
He said: “We have spent our tokens, but we won’t reveal how we used them just yet. That’ll become clear in good time.”
While early testing signs suggest Red Bull’s gains have maybe even put them as favourites for the new season, Mercedes’ have so far left them lagging behind. Or so they have made us think, as it could just be some sandbagging by the seven-time champions.
Another divisive rule change for this season is the trial of sprint races to act as qualifying on a Saturday in an attempt to increase the entertainment value of the weekend.
The idea is that these shorter races, approximately a third the distance of a regular Grand Prix, will replace Saturday qualifying and set the grid for the Sunday race. In turn, qualifying will happen on the Friday night to set the grid for the sprint race.
While the grands prix to host the sprint races haven’t yet been announced, reports suggest they are on the table for at least three, including in Canada, Italy and Brazil.
There has also been the suggestion that points will be available in the sprint races, with three points to the winner, two to second and one to third, although concerns have been voiced that it will only serve to stretch the gap between the top teams and everyone else and a dominant team like Mercedes could wrap up the title by the halfway point of the season.