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Redefining F1’s Competitive Landscape



F1 Red Bull Domination

In the fast-paced world of Formula 1, the 2023 season is quickly proving to be a critical turning point. Despite high hopes fueled by the introduction of ground effect regulations, the dominating performance of Red Bull over the last year has cast a shadow over the sport’s evolution. But as the dust of the racetrack settles, one question lingers – where do we go from here?

The 2023 Formula 1 season is quickly turning into a pivotal moment of reckoning. This isn’t the first time such a crisis has unfolded, but the high hopes fueled by the introduction of ground effect regulations have been overshadowed by the overpowering performance of Red Bull in the last year.

It’s not to say that Red Bull is at fault for securing victories in 22 out of the last 27 races since the previous year began.

The team and its drivers are in the sport to clinch victories, and they have managed to do so through relentless effort, creativity, and diligence.

However, as commendable as this might be, it doesn’t necessarily ignite the passion of the impartial observer, and it’s this lack of suspense that lies at the heart of the issue.

So, if Red Bull isn’t the culprit, what is? A portion of the blame can be directed towards competing teams, specifically Ferrari and Mercedes.

As Christian Horner, the team principal of Red Bull, remarked after securing a fourth one-two finish in the past five grand prix events in Miami, “we’re kind of wondering, where are the others?”.


Both teams, Mercedes and Ferrari, possess the resources to compete at Red Bull’s level, but they’re currently falling short, mired in a haze of comprehension, while Red Bull, operating out of Milton Keynes, exhibits a clear understanding and flawless execution of their strategy.

Both Mercedes and Ferrari boast formidable cars, but they are significantly outmatched by Red Bull.

Aston Martin, on the other hand, can be given a pass from this grouping, as they’re a team on the rise, performing better than expected, and providing the most consistent, albeit sporadic and minor, challenge to Red Bull.

If Red Bull were either absent from the grid or performing at a level that placed them among the current group vying for second-best—a group characterized by variety and fluctuating performance—the perception of the season would be quite different.

In the last five grand prix, three different drivers and teams have led the pursuit, and Fernando Alonso would be topping the championship if Red Bull weren’t dominating.

If this were the case, we’d be discussing the season as a thrilling and unpredictable start. That’s why the relative performance of teams is so crucial in shaping any conversation around this issue.

However, it’s unrealistic to expect all teams to perform at the same level, and for Formula 1 to remain a true sporting competition, there must be room for teams to either excel or falter.


This indicates that the real issue lies elsewhere. Consequently, our focus inevitably shifts towards the regulations.

As recent debates about dull races have emphasized, the race format itself is not the issue. The lackluster Baku sprint race wasn’t due to the weekend’s schedule, but rather a result of the challenges of overtaking, the uniformity in performance, the close competition within most of the pack, and the properties of the tires.

The same factors have been observed in grand prix Sundays and regular weekends. The Miami Grand Prix was a more exciting race, but it still didn’t deliver the adrenaline-fueled spectacle many are yearning for, even though it did, like Jeddah and Baku, offer an intriguing head-to-head at the forefront, albeit a metaphorical one, with Verstappen and Perez’s rivalry expressed primarily through their lap times.

Consequently, it’s the technical regulations that become the focal point. These rules were devised to enhance what Ross Brawn, then F1 chief, referred to as the “raceability” of the cars.

Thorough research was carried out on wake characteristics and the causes of turbulence, with the new rules designed to alleviate these issues.

Other goals were also set, including tightening the competition and maintaining cost-effectiveness.

To some degree, the regulations have been successful. Following the race has become easier than it was before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s straightforward. As a byproduct, the slipstream effect is somewhat diminished.


The shift from reliance on upper body aerodynamics towards downforce produced by the ground effect floor, along with the reduction of outwash geometries, formed the crux of these modifications.

Ground effect was often touted as a cure-all for Formula 1. The proposition was that such downforce generation would be more resilient, even infinitely so, and thus less susceptible to turbulence. However, this notion has turned out to be overly simplistic.

The rule-makers had a more nuanced understanding and were aware it wouldn’t be that straightforward, but the cars remain sensitive to turbulence nonetheless.

Broadly, there are two dynamics at play. The regulations provide the structure, but it’s the teams’ efforts that ultimately determine the nature of the cars and the racing.

These design teams are highly skilled and well-equipped, conditioned to push performance to its utmost limits.

What we’ve observed with ground effect cars is that they too exhibit a degree of sensitivity, evidenced by the meticulous adjustments made to the floor fences. Just as the upper body aerodynamics must be maximized without approaching the stall point and thus becoming susceptible to turbulence, similar principles apply to the underbody.

Even if the impact is lessened, it’s still present. This becomes a problem even before considering other factors like ride control and the myriad other interrelated elements that contribute to an F1 car’s performance.


Ground effect was seen as a silver bullet when it was banned, but now that it’s a reality, it’s perceived as a challenge. Neither view is entirely accurate.

The issue with simplistic solutions is that they flourish in hypothetical scenarios. As we delve deeper into the specifics, the complex nature of reality begins to reveal itself. This is a crucial consideration for anyone proposing easy fixes for F1’s upcoming rule changes.

Additionally, there’s an inescapable problem – the immutable laws of physics. An object moving at high speed through the air will inevitably create turbulence. Unless we resort to hosting races in a vacuum (which is not a serious proposition), this issue cannot be circumvented.

Solutions that worked in less complicated times or in series with less technical sophistication or standardized cars, simply don’t hold water in today’s F1 context.

No matter how simple the bodywork rules may be, teams will always find ways to exploit them to the fullest aerodynamically, unless we resort to introducing standardized cars—a move that would render F1 just another racing series.

However, this doesn’t mean that the battle is over or that rule-makers should surrender. It does, however, underscore the importance of framing the debate realistically.

If the goals are unattainable, then F1 is doomed to be a chaotic cycle, repeating past mistakes. If relying on a frequently misremembered past for instant solutions is seen as the best recourse, then F1 is certainly in jeopardy.

The current regulations are a good beginning, but they’re far from ideal. The 2026 season provides an opportunity to make further strides, with the expansion of moveable aerodynamics on the horizon and plans to make the cars lighter and more compact.


However, competing objectives exist, and it’s disheartening that the FIA sees the potential for weight reduction as no more than 35kg at best. Part of this stems from safety measures, as well as the integration of hybrid technology, which is considered critical for F1 given that electrification is now a prevalent, often government-enforced, trend.

So, what does this imply for Formula 1? Firstly, it serves as a caution against hasty, knee-jerk reactions.

The rules should continue to evolve, and sufficient time must be allowed for mechanisms such as the cost cap, the fairer distribution of F1’s revenue among teams, and the aerodynamic testing regulations to take effect.

These are potent measures, but they demand the one resource that is scarce in our impatient world—time. These measures need to steadily work in the background, gradually narrowing the performance gap between teams.

Secondly, it indicates the direction for the next phase of F1’s regulatory research. Specifically, the emphasis should be on introducing variables, which are key to fostering exciting racing and overtaking. Ideally, the relative performance of cars and drivers should vary throughout the race.

While this has been approached sporadically over the years, there has never been a dedicated effort to systematically identify ways to create such variables and study their impact.

And these variables should be subtle ones that can be overcome by teams and drivers performing well, rather than arbitrary randomizing measures.


The most common method for attempting this involves the objectives set out for tire supplier Pirelli in a series of target letters it has adhered to in manufacturing the tires used, but a more comprehensive analysis is needed.

Even measures such as the DRS, which has remained largely static in its race application since its introduction in 2011, have untapped potential with more dynamic adjustment of the regulations.

However, F1 can only control what’s within its grasp. Ensuring multiple teams perform well is beyond the control of the rule-makers, and even in spec series, there are good teams, poor teams, and those in between. What can be done is to establish a framework that increases the chances of exciting racing.

In order to achieve this, the constant influx of well-meaning criticism that demands unrealistic results – the ‘Make F1 Great Again’ brigade – must be disregarded, given the unavoidable truth that it’s much easier to demand results than it is to implement measures that would lead to such racing.

This means persisting with fine-tuning the technical regulations using a scientific approach, backed by research and evidence, ensuring that F1 maintains the complexity that makes it endlessly captivating, while also contemplating ways to increase race-affecting variables in a non-random manner.

The issue is, regardless of what happens, F1 teams will always strive to ‘exploit’ the regulations to their advantage.

This is simply the natural order of things since, ultimately, the paramount success for any team in a given season is to finish first and second in every single race.


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