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When Formula One was first conceived, the FIA intended for it to become the pinnacle of motor racing discipline globally, hence the name FORMULA 1. To stay at the top has required the regulators and F1 constructors to constantly adapt to new technologies and safety measures while keeping the sport as spectator friendly as possible.
F1 cars change every year, usually to comply with the regulation changes or to implement new technological advances which improve the competitiveness of the constructor’s car. F1 regulators have to balance these advances against safety requirements and ensure no one car has a massive advantage.
Although F1 cars change annually, most teams view the sport in five-year cycles. At the end of each cycle, there are often changes that impact the whole nature of the sport.
F1 Cars Change Every Year
F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport globally, and to maintain this position, it is always in a state of flux. Regulations are frequently changed, drivers are replaced, and teams constantly strive for the most efficient and fastest car possible to enable them to move up the ranks in the constructor’s championship.
The regulations are constantly being updated. The first set of rules was straightforward:
- The cars had to have four wheels.
- Engine sizes were limited to 1500cc for engines with a compressor (supercharger or turbocharger) or 4500cc if they were naturally aspirated.
- In 1952 the engine size was reduced to 750 CC for engines with a compressor or 2000 cc for the naturally aspirated engines.
- In 1952, crash helmets were made compulsory but were not very effective using various dubious materials, food bowls.
- There had to be ‘some form of protection between the engine and driver’s seat to prevent ‘the passage of flame.’
- Each car had to have two wing mirrors.
The regulations have become much more detailed and prescriptive in the intervening years.
F1 Regulations Change Every Year
F1 regulations are continually reviewed and adapted to improve safety, make the sport more exciting, and keep the teams on an equal footing.
While F1 is the top motorsport and uses technology at the “bleeding edge,” in many instances, regulations change to reduce the leading team’s technological advantage to keep the pack closer together.
Regulations also dictate safety features that teams must include, including examples of the changes in the last five years.
Although there are regular annual and even mid-season changes, five years stand out where the whole basis of the cars has been changed.
In 1994 Regularised The Construction Of F1 Cars
After Ayrton Senna’s death, the FIA changed the regulations to ban the use of driver aids such as:
- Active suspension
- Traction control
- Four-wheel steering
- The implementation of the pit lane speeds
- They reduced the rear wing height by 10 cm and increased the front wing.
- Front wing trailing assemblies that extended behind the front wheel
- was banned.
- A wooden plank fitted to the undertray (permitted to be worn by no more than 1 mm by the race end)
- Rear wing assemblies that extended ahead of the rear axle to sidestep the wing height restrictions were banned.
The 2009 Regulations Required The F1 Cars To Be “Greener”
The 2009 regulations were the first attempt to make the cars more ecologically friendly by introducing KERS to store energy generated under braking and convert it into temporary horsepower.
The first system increased the horsepower by around 80 bhp and was available for 6.6 seconds per lap to assist the drivers when overtaking.
Other changes in that year included:
- Almost all aerodynamic devices apart from the front and rear wing were banned.
- Slick tires were reintroduced
- The rev limit was decreased to 18,000 rpm.
- The regulations reduced the width of the rear wing to 750 mm and the height to 950 mm.
- They reduced the front wing ground clearance to 50 mm, and the width increased to 1800 mm.
- The rear diffuser was longer and higher.
- And variable front aerodynamic devices were allowed.
The 2014 Regulations Mandated A New Engine
One of the most significant and controversial changes was the replacement of the V8 2.4 liter naturally aspirated engines with the new 1.6 liter engines attached to an 8-speed gearbox with the KERS system fully integrated.
In 2018 The Halo Was Mandated
In 2018 F1 regulations were changed to mandate the installation of the Halo.
In the four intervening seasons, this device has been saved:
- In the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc’s driving a Ferrari, was struck by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. The Halo was credited with each driver’s survival.
- In the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2020, Romain Grosjean was protected by the Halo when he hit Daniil Kvyat’s car and went headfirst into the barriers. While the vehicle broke through the crash barrier, the Halo deflected the top part of the barrier, protecting Romain’s head.
- In 2021, Max Verstappen collided with Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen’s car ran over the Mercedes, and its wheel landed on the Mercedes directly over Hamilton’s head. Had it not been for the Halo, it would have crushed Lewis’s head.
The 2022 Car Has Been Fundamentally Redesigned
The 2022 car has been changed in one of the most comprehensive reviews ever.
- The ability of the chassis to absorb higher energy.
- Aerodynamics have been changed.
- The wheel sizes increased.
- The fuel is changed.
The Ability Of The Chassis To Absorb Higher Energy Levels
The new regulations require the F1 chassis to absorb higher energy forces. The changes include:
- The ability to absorb energy from a front impact increased by 48% and 15% more from the rear.
- The roll hoop cannot deform by more than 25mm when a nine-tonne vertical force-placed is applied.
- As well as increased resistance to forces, the cockpit sides, fuel tank floor, cockpit floor, and rim are continually tested and enhanced.
Aerodynamics Have Been Fundamentally Changed
Changes to the aerodynamics of the new car include:
- The front wing has been redesigned, with the endplates being increased in size. The intention is to reduce the turbulent air for the car behind and enable closer racing.
- The floor of the car now creates a ground effect to increase traction. It is causing significant issues for most F1 teams.
- The rear wing is now a curved one-piece assembly intended to reduce the turbulent air behind and thus enable closer racing.
- Barge boards that were designed to move the airflow outwards and disrupt the airflow behind the car have been banned.
The F1 Car Wheel Sizes Have Been Increased
The wheel size has to 18-inch units riding on low-profile Pirelli tires.
The introduction of the new tires simplifies the aerodynamics, reduces the airflow inefficiencies, and increases the clean flow across the car.
The new front tires disrupt the airflow, so tiny wings which curve over the wheels from the inside and help smooth out the airflow have been allowed.
Since 2009, wheel covers have been reintroduced to clean up the airflow for the first time.
The Fuel The F Car Uses Been Changed
The 2022 E10 fuel is mandated, which means it must contain at least 10% ethanol.
The ethanol must be a bi-product from another source and be extracted using sustainable methods.
It is a significant change and affects the engine’s performance and reliability.
The 2025 Car will feature new engine technology.
The proposed changes will include a redesign of the engine, creating the second-generation power unit, which aims to be carbon neutral and powered by advanced sustainable fuel.
An internal combustion engine will power the F1 car, but there will also be a massively increase in the use of the electrical power unit.
Toto Wolf has predicted that the cars will run on 100 percent sustainable fuels by 2025.
On the one hand, F1 cars change every year to take advantage of technological advances; however, the main reason is to comply with regulatory changes. These typically only require a modification to a safety system, chassis, aero, or engine component; however, significant changes are implemented approximately every five years.
F1 regulators have a difficult job to perform; on the one hand, they need to motivate technologies that increase the speed and competitiveness of the vehicles. On the other hand, they need to restrain some advancements if they compromise safety or the competitiveness between teams.