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Mercedes: F1 cost cap prompts greater lags behind wind tunnel findings

Added delays between a Formula 1 team's wind tunnel testing and a new part's eventual manufacture is one of the cost cap's biggest effects, says Mercedes technical chief James Allison.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

The introduction of the cost cap for the 2021 season intended to close up the competition between F1 teams, by reducing the effect of the top teams' financial advantage.

Although that effect has helped to create a tight midfield pack thus far, it has also limited the development scope of the current generation of cars and made it more difficult to overcome a slow start.

The effect on components with long lead times has been minimal, according to Allison, but the common trickle of upgrades introduced throughout the season has faced a greater amount of lag between testing and production.

As a result, teams have moved towards grouping their upgrades into packages, which causes further delays for the parts developed first.

"If you imagine that most of the performance is coming from the wind tunnel, the wind tunnel is always, therefore, leading where the car will ultimately follow," Allison explained in an exclusive interview with Autosport.

"The lag between what the car sees and what the wind tunnel is doing is how quickly you can drop the wind tunnel geometry into the design office, and how they can spit that out into manufacturing to make.

"Back in the day, when cost cap wasn't there, then you could drop those things out the wind tunnel pretty much every other day, and people would furiously design them and then you'd furiously build them, which meant the lag between where the tunnel was and where the track was always only a few weeks.

James Allison, Technical Director, Mercedes-AMG

James Allison, Technical Director, Mercedes-AMG

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

"Nowadays, you can afford maybe to drop two or three major or major-ish upgrades in a season, and then that just tickles things in between.

"Instead of finding something in the tunnel and dropping it into the factory, you find something, find something, find something, find something, and say 'OK, that's big enough now to go in a package that we can afford. We'll make it, put it in the car'. And it means that the car lags the wind tunnel by far more.

"It doesn't change the gain rates in the tunnel. That's always the same. But the car catches up with the wind tunnel less frequently and is in more lag with it. So that's how it affects you."

Allison added that the financial restrictions have made it difficult for Mercedes to put resources towards longer-term projects, such as improving the processes and personnel at the team.

This is something that the Williams team, under the guidance of his former colleague James Vowles, has been vocal about owing towards the restrictions on capital expenditure.

"The other way it affects you is that it's harder to find the resource, people, and hardware to invest in capability improvement," Allison said.

"It's very easy to get stuck in the same way of doing stuff because to improve the way of doing stuff costs money and time.

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"If you're spending all your money and time on those few upgrades and building a car for the new year, it's hard to make the mousetrap better.

"The machinery that makes the car, the drawing office that draws the car, and the methodology in the factory - it's much harder to invest in that than it used to be."

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