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F1 teams' launch season secrecy is well justified - Fry

The obsession by Formula 1 teams in keeping their designs secret during launch season this year was completely normal, reckons Alpine tech chief Pat Fry.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521 and Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521 and Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

During the run of 2021 car launches this year, the lengths that some teams went to to hide their new ideas became a big talking point.

Mercedes and McLaren both blanked out areas of their cars in launch images, while AlphaTauri released renders of its 2021 car with a completely different nose and suspension design.

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Red Bull went a step further by holding back on publishing any pictures of its new RB16B from a filming day at Silverstone.

While the lengths the teams went to to keep things private surprised some onlookers, for the teams involved the situation was actually quite typical.

Alpine F1 chassis technical director Pat Fry says the speed by which rivals teams can copy ideas made it a no-brainer to not show off good ideas until teams absolutely had to.

“I think it is just a point to principle, more than anything, to be honest,” said Fry.

“You never give anything away. I've been taught that for 30 years, so I find it hard to change now.

“In reality I could see something on someone's car, and if it's a different fence or a different shape or floor, I could be testing that in the tunnel in two days and have it on the car in a week. So I think there's that.

“A large, large rule change has happened, and although it is a very limited part of the car, it will be quite easy to react and see if someone has got something that's working better than everyone else.

"I think it's just the nature of Formula 1 isn't it?

“We all think we're clever and we all try and hide what we're doing, and then we will find out how quick we are come the Bahrain race won't we.”

Pat Fry, Alpine Formula 1 team

Pat Fry, Alpine Formula 1 team

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

McLaren’s motivation for keeping its diffuser secret was made clear in pre-season testing when it emerged with a clever design idea to allow it to run with larger strakes than rival teams.

The team’s technical director James Key reckoned rivals would be quickly trying out the concept in the windtunnel and could tweak their own designs within a matter of weeks.

“I think the first port of call with any idea you see out there is CFD, so I think you can jump on an idea that you spot on another team within a week easily nowadays,” he explained.

“I guess if there's still interest after a week, whether it's our diffuser or Mercedes' edge of floor detail or whatever it is, I think you can get a feel for things quite quick.

“Then it's really understanding how it works with your car. That's the key to this.

"You can then end up with a unique geometry of your own because you might understand the principle, but then you have to adapt it accordingly that it works with your car.

"The diffuser situation for example is also very stable in that environment as well.

“So you'd probably therefore wind tunnel test it, which might be a week or two down the line, and then you've got to manufacture it.

"These particular steps are pretty straightforward.

"So you could say between three and five weeks between taking the picture and putting it on the car if you really wanted to push this through.”

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