Aston Martin’s Otmar Szafnauer seeks a more level playing field for low-rake runners after 2021’s rule changes, others respond.
With rule changes simplifying floor designs and eliminating the opportunity to seal off a car’s underside aerodynamics, any advantage to a low-rake design – that which has been used by Mercedes and Aston Martin in 2020 – has been ostensibly erased in the new F1 season.
Outright pace now seems to be more easily obtained by high-rake competitors, and it had seemed at the very least that Red Bull, with among the highest-rake cars on the grid, had drawn level with Mercedes – one F1 team with especially low-rake.
The German team managed to eke out a victory in the first round with exceptional strategy. However, in a tight midfield, Aston Martin have fallen behind as a result of the changes. Szafnauer wanted to hold talks with the FIA to achieve a more “equitable” result, as they look to “claw back” lost ground.
“We as a team have to work hard to try to claw back everything we can but at the same time we should be having the discussions with the FIA to see if anything can be done to make it a bit more equitable,” he said to TV media, prior to the talks.
Szafnauer denied that Aston Martin intend to go to court at this stage, but says the FIA were able to act with more authority in this particular instance because the changes were made in the name of safety. “I think we get to that point after the discussions. It’s hard to predict. I think the right thing to do is to see what can be done. The regulation change was made for safety reasons, that kind of governance rests solely with the FIA.”
Opposing team principal Christian Horner of Red Bull argued that the advantage is not solely with high-rake runners, with the Brit also pointing out that a unanimous vote was required to approve the new regulations. He calls the arguments of Szafnauer and Aston Martin “naive” in a harsh criticism of their complaints.
“Mercedes won first race with what you would classify a low-rake car,” said Horner. “They had absolutely equal, and maybe better, tyre degradation than we had in Bahrain. But ignoring all of that, there is a process for regulations to be introduced and they were voted through unanimously through the different regulations that Aston Martin or Racing Point would have had to vote for, before being passed through the Formula 1 Commission and the World Council. They were all voted through unanimously.
“Now, when there was a front wing change a couple of years ago it really hurt us. We voted against it, but you just have to accept it. So it would seem a little naive to think that suddenly the rules are just going to get changed after the process has been fully followed. I’m struggling to get my head around that.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes the question of whether or not the new regulations are fair is one worth asking, but the Austrian also refrains from taking any particular stance on the controversial matter. “I think this a tricky subject,” Wolff began. “You need to have the full picture before making any comment.
“Since [last] April there was a bunch of decisions, regulatory changes, tyres were introduced and obviously lots of discussion. I think the nuances of that has come to a point where we can ask: was there any decision made against a particular concept of car or wasn’t there?”
He further added to media including FormulaRapida.net: “I understand the topic because how the rules have fallen into place last year one can always question what the motivation was. There is certainly the right to review and look at things and discuss them with the FIA to find out what has actually happened and how things have happened.
“That’s why I respect Aston Martin’s inquiry in the whole thing. Maybe things were targeted at us and they are collateral damage.” Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto pointed out that his team were disadvantaged by various regulations in 2020, and argues that the “rules are the same for everyone” so Aston Martin should not be accommodated.
“Ferrari was forced to stop developing the car in 2020 after Australia,” said Binotto. “We had no way of improving our poor performance. But that’s just part of the game. The rules are the same for everyone.”
AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost sharply criticizes Aston Martin’s remarks, suggesting it was the British F1 outfit’s mismanagement of their 2021 development that led to their underwhelming performances – which, he points out, Mercedes have thus far managed to avoid. “Everyone agreed to the rules – they weren’t made overnight,” Tost began.
“Everyone has to come to terms with the rules and the new tyres. Some did a good job, some didn’t. It has always been like this. As for the disadvantage for Mercedes – they won the first race. So, unlike Aston Martin, they seem to be getting along quite well with the new rules.”
In a number of meetings – after their initial media comments – with the FIA, Szafnauer says some of his team’s concerns were addressed, saying he believes the process of enacting the new rules was fair and equitable, but that they continue to meet with the governing body to discuss the matter.
“At this point, [we’re] pretty satisfied that all the correct steps were followed,” Szafnauer began. “We’re still in discussion, we’re just trying to discover what all the steps were to make sure that it was done properly and equitably, so that’s the reason for the discussion.”
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