F1’s same but different start as new eras dawn

F1’s same but different start as new eras dawn

Formula 1’s car launch season is looking a little different this year but a busy week of unveilings awaits with world champions Mercedes and the new-look Alpine and Aston Martin teams to launch their new cars for F1 2021

By James Galloway

Last Updated: 01/03/21 10:17am

Same, same but different

F1 launch season was always going look and feel a little different this year due to the impact of Covid-19. With the big-scale media events for teams to launch their cars off the table, the cost-saving regulations imposed for 2021 amid the early stages of the pandemic last spring also ensured that this season’s cars would be particularly evolutionary.

All teams have still had to attend to notable rule changes at the rear of the car, as the FIA moves to keep downforce levels and therefore speeds under control, but any further fundamental development has been ‘frozen’ to a significant degree by the regulations.

Although aerodynamic surface development has remained open for teams, the upgrading of heavier-duty items such as survival cell, gearbox and suspension has been governed by a token system. Teams have been granted two tokens to spend on improvements in these ‘frozen’ areas only, meaning specific areas have had to be prioritised by engineers.

McLaren, for instance, have had to use their tokens to incorporate their new Mercedes power unit into the MCL35M, while midfield rivals AlphaTauri have worked to improve the front of their car.

Red Bull’s under-the-radar RB16B

There was an element of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ around the launch of Red Bull’s latest challenger, the RB16B, in the middle of last week. The team released the first two digital renders of the car on their social media channels on Tuesday morning, one image taken from the front and a second from the side, but then nothing else – despite the car taking to the track for its shakedown a day later at Silverstone.

An array of track and pit lane images were released from Red Bull’s two days at the British GP venue, but these were of the 2019 car which was also running to give drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and reserve Alex Albon further track time beyond what a 100km-limited filming day with current cars permits.

So what gives? Is there something Red Bull are keen to particularly keep under wraps with their new challenger, perhaps at the rear of the car? Are they simply just keeping rivals on their toes?

From a team that have run newly-launched challengers in camouflage livery in the past, there’s certainly always an element of guessing as to what’s going on at this stage of pre-season with their latest design. In any case, with Red Bull determined to start particularly strongly this year against Mercedes, there is certainly no need for them to give away anything more than they absolutely need to before day one of pre-season testing on March 12.

2021 is also about 2022

Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok asks the key questions to Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Mattia Binotto as Ferrari bid to turn around their fortunes this year.

Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok asks the key questions to Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Mattia Binotto as Ferrari bid to turn around their fortunes this year.

This season was of course supposed to be the year that Formula 1 began a new dawn of regulations aimed at closing up the field and making the grid more competitive. That’s before the pandemic and the raft of F1 cost-saving measures hurriedly agreed and introduced, including the deferral of the all-new car designs until 2022.

Still, there are elements of that revolutionary blueprint in play for the first time this year – a $145m budget cap and a handicap system on wind tunnel development time being two such measures – and what’s already clear from team soundbites at the launches is that the spectre of 2022 car development is going to be present all year.

The 2021 challengers haven’t even been raced yet, the job list to be ready with a competitive challenger for next year is already long.

Indeed, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto – who knows full well that 2022 is going to be Ferrari’s best route back to championship contention anytime soon – admitted that aside from early track-wind tunnel correlation work with their new SF21 in the forthcoming weeks: “We will need to be focused on 2022.”

“Not because 2022 is our priority but the exercise is so big,” added Binotto. “You are starting from scratch. There is a lot of design and development that needs to be done for 2022 and that simply will leave very little space to any other activity on the 2021 [car].”

New eras to be launched; Mercedes to reveal car to maintain theirs

With winter testing starting a couple of weeks later this year, the car reveals have been a little more spaced than usual so far. But that changes somewhat this week: from Tuesday, we’ll see five teams reveal either 2021 cars or liveries in the space of four days.

The most visual changes among the whole grid for 2021 are undoubtedly going to come from Alpine (formerly Renault) and Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) and they will reveal their new cars and colours on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively following significant winter rebrands.

Mercedes also unveil their new W12 on Tuesday as the seven-time double world champions aim to maintain their vice-like grip on the sport’s major prizes.

All three unveilings are being shown on Sky Sports F1 and digital platforms.

Who’s still to launch?

March 2 Mercedes 11am – Watch on Sky Sports F1
March 2 Alpine 3pm – Watch on Sky Sports F1
March 3 Aston Martin 3pm – Watch on Sky Sports F1
March 4 Haas (livery launch)
March 5 Williams
March 10 Ferrari

Haas’ livery reveal takes place on Thursday, while Williams round off the week with a first look at their FW43B on Friday.

Having purposely left their new car out of their initial ‘team launch’ last week, Ferrari round things off on March 10 – two days before F1 2021 starts for real when the new cars take to the track all together for the first time at the three-day Bahrain test.

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