The divergence in Formula 1 car concept between the high-rake runners, led by Red Bull, and those with low-rake, exemplified by Mercedes, has been a big talking point in Formula 1 during the past five seasons.
The Race Members’ Club member Erwin Bogaard recently asked The Race’s technical expert Gary Anderson whether or not the 2022 regulations will still favour the high-rake concept.
The starting point here is why the high-rake concept is potentially better, which is simply the advantage of having a larger volume of low-pressure underneath the car. Provided you are able to seal the underfloor effectively, then there will be a downforce advantage from having more rake in your car even though it will come at the cost of raising the centre of gravity slightly.
So that’s what makes running high-rake appealing.
But if we go back to the start of the process of designing the 2022 cars, which of course every team will have done long ago, you’d have to come up with an initial concept.
These are probably the biggest rule changes for the cars that there has ever been in Formula 1, but the regulations are extremely tight meaning the first thing you would do is come up with what you might call a ‘face value’ car. This is based on a straightforward read of the regulations to come up with a starting point for the car.
Early on, you will conduct experiments to find out what works. For example, when it comes to deciding if high-rake is the way to go, you might put a sealing strip down the side of the floor. On a 60% scale model, which is the maximum F1 teams are allowed to run in the windtunnel, that might be a 10mm skirt.
Then you would see what effect that has on the underfloor and whether it gives you a big gain in downforce. If so, then you need to understand if you can achieve this effect within the regulations through a combination of bodywork and the vortices/aerodynamic flow. Identifying the potential is relatively easy, but realising it is more difficult.
My feeling is that running with higher rake will still be the way to go next year. While it will probably be a little less significant given the return of ground effect with the twin venturis down each side of the car, there is still performance to be gained here. But what will decide whether it is the way to go is the detail and if it can be made to work. That will require a huge amount of detailed work and experimentation to achieve.
The simplification of the aerodynamics of the car could make sealing the underfloor more difficult to achieve. The front wing endplates have again been simplified and the complicated bargeboard areas have effectively been removed entirely.
These are crucial to setting up the all-important vortices, so that could make things more difficult. But F1 teams will have plenty of ideas that those who wrote the rules won’t have thought of and we know that compared to the show car F1 revealed at Silverstone in July, the real cars are far more detailed within what is allowed by the rules.
Of the two big teams, Red Bull has the experience of the high-rake concept whereas Mercedes has stuck with the low-rake through thick and thin. As we’ve seen this year, both can produce a similar level of performance and it’s all about how well you can get all the detail to work for you to optimise your initial concept.
Mercedes had resisted going to a high-rake concept given it would require so many changes to a car concept that was designed around the low-rake, so it made sense to stick with it. And you can’t say that’s wrong given how well it’s done.
But it will have had the chance to look into it with fresh ideas for the new car, so it’s an opportunity for Mercedes to go in that direction. And given how different the cars are, while Red Bull might have a small advantage from having worked with it for so long, Mercedes would be able to do just as good a job provided they get it right. The key question is whether or not something that should be an advantage can be made to work.
I’m looking forward to seeing the new cars when they appear for testing next year. Anyone betting against Mercedes going for high rake and Red Bull low rake?
Only when we see them will we know the answer to this – and many other – questions.