Wheel wake will still be an issue, so in order to allow teams to still control it to some degree, there will be two additional key aerodynamic devices: wheel fairings and wheel blades.
The wheel blades (located over the top of the wheels) reduce the separation and turbulence created by the lower pressure area behind the tyres, while the wheel fairings allow for a much cleaner airflow to pass around the outside of the wheel. Wheel fairings have been used in the past (most famously by Brawn Racing) and were a very effective tool, but they do have some drawbacks such as a reduced brake cooling potential.
Rear wings will also see some changes and will be taller and narrower than the current ones. They will also implement a lower beam element which will help integrate the performance of the floor tunnels and the rear wing much better. It seems for now that the DRS will remain on the rear wing in 2021 as well, to further aid overtaking.
These changes have resulted in a loss of just 5% downforce for following vehicles in CFD and wind tunnel testing conducted by the FIA. If these values hold up when the vehicles are made, the changes will indeed have a huge effect in the drivers’ ability to race against each other in a much more exciting way.
The next question is, will any of the above help teams with less money or resources be more competitive and bridge the gap that currently exists between Formula 1 and (the so-called) Formula 1.5.
In terms of the amount that teams can differentiate themselves with their aerodynamic development, it does help. These more prescriptive aerodynamic rules will allow teams with less resources to keep focused on larger development issues, rather than having to worry about microscopic changes in geometry to aid performance.
In order to allow teams to further bridge the performance gap, Formula 1 has also suggested that there will be many more spec parts for the 2021 season. The gearbox has already been confirmed as one such spec part, and it will essentially become a standard cartridge that can be inserted into each team’s rear casings. Other parts such as brake components, rims, hubs and wheel nuts have also been proposed. Interestingly, regulated hubs and wheel nuts would allow for further standardisation of some pit stop components such as wheel guns, trolley jacks, etc., taking away any potential advantage that teams may be able to squeeze out of them.
Pirelli have also suggested moving to 18 inch rims with tyres that will not degrade as quickly as the current ones. This will allow drivers to relax more on the tyre management front during a race, push the vehicle much harder, and take full advantage of the increased downforce levels when following another vehicle. The trick will be ensuring that the tyres performance doesn’t decrease too quickly while also allowing for pit stops to continue, which won’t be easy to achieve.
The suggested rule changes for 2021 do indeed answer many of the spectators’ and drivers’ complaints from the last few years. With these new rules in place, vehicles will be able to perform much better when following other cars, smaller teams will have a better chance to develop at a similar pace as much larger teams, and drivers will be able to focus more on the racing (rather than on the tyre wear, the vehicle pacing and so on). Hopefully this will result in a much larger, closer grid that is able to truly excite and surprise the spectators, race after race.