• F1 W12 E Performance

Significant aero changes for the 2021 season

The biggest technical challenge on the 2021 F1 cars has been adapting to the new aerodynamic regulations, with the introduction of several significant changes to key performance areas on the car.

“If you’re looking to slow a car down, which is effectively what the regulation changes were intended to do, modifying the floor is by far the easiest and cheapest way of achieving your objective,” said James Allison. “The floor is such an important aerodynamic component that small geometrical changes bring large reductions in performance. Once the rules had been established, our task was to figure out how to recover the losses brought by the changes.”

That has been a significant challenge for our designers, trying to claw back performance from these regulation changes. The four key modifications to the floor are:
 
  • A triangular cut-out on the edge of the floor, in front of the rear wheels.
  • Reducing the span of the rear brake duct winglets, by a few centimetres.
  • Reducing the height of the two inboard strakes nearest the car centreline in the diffuser.
  • Sealing up the slots in the floor around the bargeboards.

The aerodynamic changes have been a key focus in the development of the W12, but some of the parts on our new car are identical to the W11 owing to the new carryover rules. In some ways, this has lessened the peak of work required for the new car, but it’s also produced its own new challenges and difficulties.

“What’s carried over will look different from team to team, because the rules didn’t require you to carry over the same things,” explained James Allison. “The rules freeze a large chunk of the car, but then give each team two tokens to spend on changing their car. Along with the tokens comes a shopping list showing how many tokens are required for each change. How teams decided what to use their tokens on was entirely up to them.

“In addition, there are some parts of the car that you can change token-free, for example the Power Unit, the cooling systems, the suspension and of course all of the aerodynamic surfaces. We have spent our tokens, but we won’t reveal how we used them just yet. That’ll become clear in good time. Once the racing gets underway, pretty much everything under the skin of the car must then be frozen for the entire year. With the specific permission of the FIA, you can make changes for reliability or cost saving, but if part of your car isn’t performing well, then you are stuck with it for the whole season.”

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The significant aerodynamic changes to the floor and adapting to the carryover rules have kept the team busy, but there are opportunities for improvement in many areas of the car, and our engineers have been working tirelessly to find an edge.

“Our other aerodynamic work has been the normal fare of seeking out aerodynamic opportunity across every square centimetre of the car with particular attention to finding places where we can invest extra weight into fancier aerodynamic geometry,” James added.

“2021 permits the cars to be 6kg heavier, and we have an additional few kilos to spend as a result of DAS being banned. Beyond this, the carryover rules have confined us to figuring out how we can make some parts live longer, so we don’t have to replace or buy them so often.”

There are new Aerodynamic Testing Restrictions (ATR) coming into force this year, with the general amount of time allocated for wind tunnel testing and CFD testing being reduced. On top of that is a form of handicapping, granting teams less or more access to these aerodynamic tools depending on their championship position. Therefore, because of our Championship victory in 2020, we will have 22% less access in 2021 compared to the last-placed team. 

“We have always tried to get the most out of every wind tunnel and CFD session, but there’s nothing like having a new constraint imposed to renew the spur to become more productive and efficient,” James said. “We are determined to find better ways of working so that we can mitigate the effect of this handicapping.”

Pirelli is introducing a new, more durable tyre this season, which teams trialled last year in Portimão, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. None of the teams have had a lot of experience with it and with only three days of pre-season testing this year, every lap on track will count to get up to speed with these new tyres.

“The tyre is a little slower, owing to the trade-off for more durability, but it is consistent and should give us trouble-free racing,” James said. “However, it will be an interesting competitiveness factor during 2021. Any time a tyre changes, it is always a learning race between the teams to find its sweet spot - where the new rubber gives its best performance.”

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These different elements stack up to present a significant challenge for 2021 and make it far from a simple ‘carryover’ year. But while the 2021 season may be staring us in the face, we also have a team of people working on the extensive regulation changes for 2022.

“The ideal situation would be to have a car that is so brilliantly fast, you can almost turn your back on it immediately and focus on the next one,” said James. “But Formula One is never that simple. The siren call of the 2021 racing campaign will inevitably draw our attention from the seismic changes of the 2022 regulations.

“We will walk a tightrope all year between doing enough to be competitive in 2021 and putting as much as we dare into 2022. Managing the bird in the hand and the one in the bush is the eternal challenge of F1 and doing so in the face of both the cost cap and the completely new 2022 technical regulations will be a challenge like no other.”

Working under the cost cap

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the team this season will be working under the new cost cap regulations. The budgets of all F1 teams are capped at $145m for the 2021 season and this has required significant work behind the scenes to adapt to this new constraint. It’s also prompted the team to adapt its organisation, including the creation of Applied Science – the high-technology engineering arm of the business.

“We had to change the structure of our team, the way we work with each other, streamline our processes and become more efficient,” said Toto. “And we fundamentally believe that the more efficient we are, the more performance gain that will translate to out on the circuit. So, it’s had a huge impact, but it has also provided us with the opportunity to re-evaluate our organisation. That’s why we set up Applied Science, bringing F1 know-how to many different customers, and it’s going to really play a big part in our evolving business.”

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From a technical perspective, the cost cap regulations require us to manage resources more judiciously through the year and make sure we spend every single dollar of cost cap money as effectively as possible. The carryover rules for 2021 have somewhat cushioned the impact on this year’s car, but as the year progresses and attentions turn to 2022, the cost cap constraints will be felt more keenly.

“We will try to ensure that we protect the rate at which we learn how to make the car go faster, but the cost cap will inevitably change the intervals between updates,” James added. “We will have to wait longer, and combine the gains into bigger steps, before we spend the money to manufacture them, in order to ensure we don’t run out of development budget early in the season.”

Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance - Technical Specification

Chassis

Monocoque: Moulded carbon fibre and honeycomb composite structure
Bodywork: Carbon fibre composite including engine cover, sidepods, floor, nose, front wing and rear wing
Cockpit: Removable driver's seat made of anatomically formed carbon composite, OMP six-point driver safety harness, HANS system
Safety Structures: Cockpit survival cell incorporating impact-resistant construction and penetration panels, front impact structure, prescribed side impact structures, integrated rear impact structure, front and rear roll structures, titanium driver protection structure (halo)
Front Suspension: Carbon fibre wishbone and pushrod-activated torsion springs and rockers
Rear Suspension: Carbon fibre wishbone and pullrod-activated inboard springs & dampers
Wheels: OZ forged magnesium
Tyres: Pirelli
Brake System: Carbone Industries Carbon / Carbon discs and pads with rear brake-by-wire
Brake Calipers: Brembo
Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
Steering Wheel: Carbon fibre construction
Electronics: FIA standard ECU and FIA homologated electronic and electrical system
Instrumentation: McLaren Electronic Systems (MES)
Fuel System: ATL Kevlar-reinforced rubber bladder
Lubricants & Fluids: PETRONAS Tutela

Transmission

Gearbox: Eight speed forward, one reverse unit with carbon fibre maincase
Gear Selection: Sequential, semi-automatic, hydraulic activation
Clutch: Carbon plate

Dimensions

Overall Length: Over 5000mm
Overall Width: 2000mm
Overall Height: 950mm
Overall Weight: 752kg