Aston Martin's performance hasn't been as strong as expected this season in Formula One competition.
Aston Martin's performance hasn't been as strong as expected this season in Formula One competition.

KNUTSON: Aston Martin’s Mistake

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The 2020 Racing Point car was a direct copy of the championship-winning 2019 Mercedes and, therefore, the Racing Point was one of the fastest cars in the Formula One field last year.

That the team often failed to exploit the advantage is another story. But what worked in 2020 has backfired in 2021 because of a change in the regulations and it all has to do with rake.

Mercedes and Racing Point — now called Aston Martin — are “low-rake” cars, meaning the front and rear floor of the car are low and roughly parallel to the ground. A car like the Red Bull is a “high-rake” because the front of the car is practically scraping the track while the rear sits up high.

In an effort to reduce downforce, the 2021 technical regulations made changes to the floor of the car in the area just in front of the rear tires. And this has resulted in the low-rake cars losing more downforce than the high-rake cars.

Were the new regulations designed deliberately to hobble Mercedes, which has won the world championship for seven straight years? The FIA is in charge of all technical regulations, but did the commercial rights holder Liberty Media/Formula One get involved in an effort to improve the show?

Aston Martin officials want to know.

“I understand the topic because of how the rules have fallen into place last year,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “One can always question what the motivation was. I think there is certainly the right to review, look at things and discuss them with the FIA to find out what has actually happened and how things have happened. That’s why I respect Aston Martin’s inquiry into the whole thing, and maybe things were targeted at us and they were collateral damage.

“Low-rake is always an issue,” Wolff added. “We’ve seen in our data that the change of regulations has harmed the low-rake cars more than the high-rake cars, but you won’t see it on every circuit if you have your car properly balanced, in the right window, which is difficult to get into, then your performance will be OK, but relative to over the years, definitely a hit.”

Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer plans to talk to the FIA.

“I think the right thing to do is have the discussions with the FIA and find out exactly what happened and why,” he told Sky TV. “And then see if there’s something that could be done to make it more equitable.”

This would only apply to 2021 because the technical rules will change in 2022.

“We as a team have to work hard to try and claw back everything we can,” Szafnauer said. “But at the same time, we should be having these discussions with the FIA to see if anything can be done to make it a bit more equitable.”

The problem is that the rules state no changes can be made to the aerodynamic regulations during a season unless the FIA deems it is for safety reasons. So is it possible for a team to sue the FIA?

“I think we get to that point after the discussions,” Szafnauer said. “It’s hard to predict. I think the right thing to do is to see what can be done.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner thinks the Aston Martin people are being naïve if they think they can get the rules changed. Furthermore, Aston Martin voted for the 2021 rules package.

So far the FIA has given no indication it will review the situation.

F-1 has never been a handicap formula. If one team builds a better car, then it’s up to the other teams to up their game to match and beat the superior car. It is not the FIA’s responsibility to target a specific car and slow it down, or to give slower cars a boost.

So why would the FIA suddenly change the rules in the middle of the season to help Aston Martin? Furthermore, Mercedes is still winning races this year with its low-rake car.

Actually, there are some new handicap rules in place this year. One is the first budget cap — $145 million per team per year — and even though there are a bunch of exemptions this will help level the playing field. The other is a sliding scale on time allowed in the wind tunnel based on a team’s standing in the constructors’  championship. The lower down the standings a team is the more time it is permitted in the wind tunnel.

But the bottom line is that, in retrospect, Racing Point/Aston Martin should have copied the 2019 Red Bull instead of the 2019 Mercedes.

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