These are tricky times for Formula 1 teams. The white-heat intensity of another busy season is upon them, but more than usual they will be diverted by what comes next. The revolutionary new chassis regulations set for 2021 require a clean-sheet design approach and are a huge drain on time and resources.
For Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, there are titles to be won while ensuring that balls aren’t dropped for the impending new era. For the others, new rules offer a rare and golden chance to gain a big chunk of competitive ground – but they can’t afford to forget the present, either. It’s a multi-million-dollar juggling act.
“We don’t want to sacrifice 2020 to get a better start for 2021,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl at the launch of the MCL35. The British outfit enjoyed a much-needed rejuvenation last season, finishing fourth in the teams’ standings as best of the rest behind the ‘big three’. That hard-earned momentum must not be lost, especially for an independent team that has to pay for its engines.
“We want to make the next step in 2020,” continued Seidl. “Similar to everyone else, we want a strong start to the season, because that might make it easier to switch some resources to the next car.”
Beyond 2021, F1 is looking further into the future, to its next-generation power solution, which is due in 2025 as the wider world’s zero-emissions targets move closer. Last week, we touched upon the drive towards electrification and how F1 might eventually be forced to embrace it. But that’s not how leading figures necessarily see it. There’s a strong belief in the combustion engine; one fascinating stream of research, for example, revolves around super-efficient, high-revving, small-capacity two strokes.
“There are lots of technologies to consider,” said McLaren’s new technical director, James Key. “Clearly it has got to be relevant, but there are alternatives [to electrification]. The energy density of fuel is incredibly high. If you could make that low- or preferably zero-emissions using a different type of fuel, all the technologies around combustion engines are there. Of all the industries in the world, F1, with the speed and amount of development that goes on, is well placed to find new methods of propulsion for the future.”
F1 leading, rather than following, automotive power needs: what a great way to protect motorsport from legislation that could banish it into extinction.