ELI5- Why the same Formula 1 team can have such a different performance on its cars year-to-year?

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Using Mercedes as an example. Going from 1 to 4 or down the ladder. Shouldn’t its own car performance be AT LEAST as good as previous years?

What changes year to year that the data they have or previous winning cars cant be used?

Thanks 🙂

In: Engineering

6 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Usually the cars are at least as good as last years car. If you compare lap times between years you see that they are getting quicker. However so are the other teams. So if you got pole position one year, and then improve the car, you may not get pole position next year. Because other teams may have improved even more.

In addition to this there are changes in the regulation. Some of these changes happen mid-season. For example the limit on lubrication oil loss in addition to the limit on fuel oil was introduced in the middle of the season and caused Mercedes cars to become significantly slower. Some minor changes are introduced between seasons to allow the teams to design new cars around the new regulations, for example minor changes to the wing shape. And major regulations are introduced with a few years interval and announced a year in advance. This was how Mercedes went from 1st to 3rd as regulations allowed for ground effect.

Anonymous 0 Comments

What changes are the regulations – usually the extent to which it happens is small, but every so often there is a big change. When Mercedes fell from 1st to 4th, that was in the year when the whole concept behind the racecars changed, and Mercedes still never figured out the current concept properly. On the other hand, Adrian Newey got his Phd. in ground effect, so he was able to leverage these new regulations in Red Bull’s favor.

But even small changes can have big effects. In 2021, there was a technically minor change to floor regulations, but it affected low-rake and high-rake cars disproportionally. Also, the development of the new car doesn’t happen just during the season break, but starts like a year ahead.

You will also have miscellaneous things like the talent pool of engineers, driver’s form, luck etc., but strictly on the car performance side exploiting the regulations to the largest legal extent is the name of the game.

Anonymous 0 Comments

the regulations change a bit year to year so you can’t just use the same car..

even if the regulations don’t change much if you did use the same car you’d be going backwards, the fastest car in year 1 would be in the midfield in year 4.. if you’re not moving forward you’re standing still or going backwards you need to keep up with all the other teams

Merc were winning before the regulations changed pretty radically to cars that used ground effects, they can and do use all the data and things they learned from the old regulations to the new ones but RB got the regulations more right and made a faster car..

Merc have been trying to play catch-up but it’s trying to catch a moving target.. this years car could be 0.5s faster than last years car but if RB has found 0.6s (and McLaren have found 0.8s) then you’re just going backwards

Anonymous 0 Comments

In Formula 1, the “Formula” is the rulebook that defines everything about the car. Wheel size, engine specs, weight, fuel, etc. (There’s other formulas, like Formula E for electric racing or Formula 2 which is a tier down from 1).

The governing body, FIA, changes the formula pretty regularly so teams are constantly updating their cars.

When adapting to these new rules, some teams come up with better solutions than others, which leads to a re-shuffling of their positions on the leaderboard. This is especially true when a team comes up with a novel solution or invents a new technology the others didn’t think of.

A great example is Mercedes’ 2020 car, where they introduced dual axis steering that let them adjust toe-in/toe-out on the fly. They were faster on the straights, they were faster in corners, it made them so dominant that FIA updated the formula to forbid them from using it for 2021.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Teams make updates to their cars throughout the year. Some teams’ updates are more effective than others. Some teams spend more time and budget on mid-season updates. Others spend their budgets on other things. Some teams’ advancements are very effective. Others not so much. While it is rare that a car’s performance moves backwards it is possible. Sometimes they get things wrong.

And thats just concerning mid-season updates. Every year they make tweaks to the rules that force teams to innovate within the ever-changing regulations. some years these are minor changes. Other years they require completely redesigning the cars.

And in Mercedes case, its because they got comfortable dominating with an untouchable car and got the new car completely wrong. So now they’re just complaining about Red Bull domination and whining like they’re so mistreated when its their own damn fault they engineered it wrong and their savior Hamilton is being shown to actually be an absolutely mediocre driver with a bad attitude. Something many of us knew for years.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You’re completely ignoring what the other teams are doing. Your question is essentially “if Mercedes is first last year why aren’t they first this year?”

If Mercedes was really good last year, but didn’t upgrade their car well while 4 other teams did, the Mercedes car didn’t get “worse” in a vacuum but every one of their competitors got better and passed them.