Formula 1 managing director Ross Brawn has revealed that he has been testing out some theories as to what loopholes teams may try to find within the new regulations in 2022.
Intended to be introduced last year but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 cars will look very different to recent years, as radical changes aim to promote closer racing.
The cars are expected to be less aerodynamically efficient; bargeboards will disappear and the ground effect will make a return in a bid to allow drivers to follow one another more closely.
It has therefore been speculated that teams may try and wriggle their way around the new regulations and introduce some parts and systems to their car that are not strictly prohibited by the rules, but are in a grey area of the regulations.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has previously admitted that this eventuality is very possible, while Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has promised “a lot of innovation” out of Maranello over the winter.
In recent times, Mercedes have caused controversy with a pioneering idea of their own.
In 2020, the Silver Arrows introduced DAS – a steering wheel system that alters the toe of the front tyres to allow for higher straight-line speed and better tyre warm-up.
DAS was eventually outlawed at the end of the season, and other teams decided not to copy the system during the year.
And in 2010, McLaren introduced the F-Duct, which involved a driver blocking an area of the cockpit to improve airflow, but this was eventually out-voted by several teams who deemed it to be a driver-activated aerodynamic part.
Brawn, who ran the Mercedes F1 Team between 2010 and 2013 and also served as team principal of the Brackley-based team in 2009 under a different guise, recognises that teams finding a gap in the rules is rare, but it has always been a feature of the extremely competitive sport.
“If you look at what happened in real-time, especially when I was a technical director, it was the odd occasion when a team would come up with an interpretation,” he told The New York Times.
“Therefore, it was quite extreme in terms of when that happened. It didn’t happen every day of the week.”
While the 67-year-old appreciates the difficulty in finding and filling every possible gap for teams to exploit, he revealed that he and his team have endeavoured to cover as many as possible.
“Trying to anticipate every loophole or every interpretation is very difficult but for sure, our process was to understand the problem, design around eliminating the problem,” he explained.
“Our group spent some time looking at the sensitivities of the different areas to see where there could be some scope left for the teams to evolve their designs and change their designs.”
The Briton then revealed that his department has run experiments in which they deliberately break rules in an attempt to figure out where weaknesses in the regulations might exist.
“Then we did have a rule-busting phase where we did try and break the rules and see what loopholes we could find. We went through that,” he stated.
“I won’t pretend we would’ve found every loophole, but we definitely went through a regulation testing phase of seeing where we could find some opportunities.”
Brawn ran the championship-winning Brawn team in 2009, which Jenson Button won his championship with in a remarkable year, and they introduced a ground-breaking double-diffuser that season.
He was asked whether he believes anyone may try and replicate this innovation given the vast aerodynamic alterations that are being introduced in 2022.
“I don’t think so, no,” was his reply, although he refused to completely rule it out.
“But you never know. Nobody expected it before it happened.”
New Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas has previously gone on the record to say that, at least from simulator running, the cars this year do not feel so different from 2021, but McLaren driver Lando Norris reckons there will be a big change.
The 2022 season kicks off on 20 March in Bahrain, and a number of teams have already announced their car launch dates ahead of pre-season testing.