The introduction of ground effect aerodynamic cars in Formula 1 last season brought about predictions of a grid filled with similar-looking cars. However, teams surprised many with their innovative approaches, particularly when it came to the design of the sidepods.
Red Bull opted for an undercut to channel airflow, Ferrari went with distinctive “baby baths,” and Mercedes took a unique approach by eliminating sidepods altogether. Aston Martin, on the other hand, embraced the Red Bull philosophy mid-season, leading to improved performance.
This season, more teams seem to be leaning towards the Red Bull design, given the team’s success in 2022, where they claimed both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships with 17 wins out of 22 races. Red Bull has continued their dominance, winning all five races so far, while Aston Martin, dubbed the “third” Red Bull by Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, currently sits second in the championship with four podium finishes.
In contrast, Mercedes and Ferrari have adhered to their own concepts, which appears to have hampered their performance. The two teams have collectively achieved only two podium finishes, prompting speculation that they may be considering a shift towards the Red Bull approach.
While Ferrari has downplayed these reports, Mercedes is expected to unveil a new design at the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix. However, Aston Martin’s Technical Director, Andrew Green, has cautioned that changing the design philosophy is a challenging task. He believes it is crucial to have conviction in the new direction before making such a significant shift.
Green acknowledges the conceptual differences between teams and notes that both Ferrari and Mercedes are currently comparable in terms of pace. Therefore, it becomes difficult for either team to admit they have gone in the wrong direction or resist change. However, he acknowledges the potential for teams to reassess their aerodynamic concepts and observes that the longer they wait, the more challenging it becomes.
Aston Martin demonstrated the benefits of taking a gamble on a new concept last season. Introducing a B-spec car reminiscent of a “green Red Bull” at the Spanish Grand Prix, they substantially improved their performance and scored 55 points compared to just six in the first five races with the old-spec car.
Building on their Red Bull-inspired design this year, Aston Martin has already amassed 102 points, surpassing both Mercedes and Ferrari in the standings. The team’s success serves as a testament to the potential rewards of embracing a different aerodynamic concept.
As the competition heats up in Formula 1, teams face the ongoing challenge of striking the right balance between staying true to their established designs and exploring new avenues for improved performance. The choice to shift aerodynamic concepts is a significant one, and only time will tell if more teams will follow Aston Martin’s lead in pursuit of success on the track.