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Why the devil is in the detail as F1’s 2023 designs converge

Formula 1’s new rules in 2022 meant all teams were designing cars from a blank sheet of paper, with no chance to copy what others had got up to.

Ferrari SF-23 S-duct detail

Ferrari SF-23 S-duct detail

Giorgio Piola

But once the finished cars had gone public, it was inevitable we would see teams hone-in on the agreed best ideas, even if it meant switching concept. 

The imposition of a cost cap limited how much change was possible during the 2022 campaign, though, with biggest revisions always likely to be made over the last winter. 

As F1’s 2023 cars have broken cover, it has been interesting to see the degree of convergence there has been in some of the key areas, but also how different many of the details remain. 

As we head in to the pre-season test in Bahrain, it looks like there are three key development paths that teams have settled on, as they form in to camps. 

The downwash concept 

Last season, there is little doubt that Red Bull’s downwash sidepod concept was the version that most teams agreed seemed to deliver the biggest bang for buck. 

For this season, Alpine, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, AlphaTauri, McLaren and Williams (and most likely Red Bull when the RB19 is unveiled) have aggressively pursued the downwash sidepod solution category. 

Alfa Romeo side details

Alfa Romeo side details

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This section of F1’s development tree has several branches, some of which stem from the more conventional downwashing ramp solution used by Red Bull and AlphaTauri. This was adopted by the likes of Aston Martin, McLaren and Williams during 2022, with Alfa Romeo joining those ranks for 2023. 

Alpine had started the 2022 season with a similar concept but took a diverging development path, with the downwash ramp retained. However, a chute began to form as the bodywork in the central section of the ramp sank further inwards. 

While Alpine has clearly worked hard to develop this concept heading into 2023, it obviously caught the eye of several of its rivals too, with both Aston Martin and Williams incorporating this feature into their designs for this season. 

As you would expect though, there is still a significant amount of difference between these designs, as each team not only injects their own DNA but also works within the confines of the budget and resources they have at their disposal. 

Williams FW45 sidepod comparison

Williams FW45 sidepod comparison

Photo by: Williams F1

In Williams’ case, this has resulted in numerous changes to its sidepods. It had the opportunity to repackage its internal components of the sidepods, such as the radiators, coolers and electronics, as it started afresh with this year’s chassis in line with the new sidepod concept. 

This has resulted in a much deeper undercut beneath the inlet, whilst a ridge has been formed on the sidepod’s flank to form the chute that feeds the downwash ramp. 

Alpine A523

Alpine A523

Photo by: Alpine

Alpine has obviously continued to optimise the design that it worked on throughout 2022, with the inlet size and shape altered, while the undercut and chute sections have also been refined. 

Aston Martin has taken the concept onto a whole new level though, with the sidepod’s flank essentially just a facade that allows for an extreme version of the downwash chute in the central section of the sidepod. 

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

The inwash bathtub solution 

Ferrari’s sidepod solution wowed when it made its first appearance last season, as it looked very different to the shapes that we’d become accustomed to over the last few years.  

The use of the cooling gills within the sunken bathtub-like bodywork were also indicative of the new regulations that had once again allowed their inclusion. 

The Scuderia made optimisations to the depth of the undercut and rear pod section during the season, along with using blanking plates on some of the gills depending on the demands of the circuits being visited. 

It also appeared unfazed by many of its rivals switching concepts last season, so it’s no surprise that it has continued to forge its path with a similar scheme this season. 

Ferrari SF-23 S-duct detail

Ferrari SF-23 S-duct detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

However, as expected, it has a few new tricks up its sleeve, with the side duct the most notable of these. This is most likely connected to the lower vertical inlet beside the chassis to help draw up the airflow from that region. 

Haas had already followed Ferrari’s direction in 2022, when its updated bodywork that arrived at the Hungarian Grand Prix also featured more of a bathtub-style solution. 

The VF-23 continues in this trend, as Haas has optimised its internal packaging and the associated aerodynamic surfaces to extract more performance from the concept. 

The zero pod idea 

Mercedes introduced and persevered with its zero pod solution during 2022, as it fought other more important fires.  

And, while there’s clearly some of the original zero pod’s design DNA to be found in the new W14 year's challenger, there’s also plenty that’s been altered too. 

Firstly, the inlet is sat further back than on the W13 and is rectangular, rather than triangular, which obviously has a bearing on the bodywork that envelopes it.  

The bodywork, which had quickly tapered-in before, now sits slightly outboard for longer in the bottom portion of the sidepod bodywork, while the upper portion tapers in towards the engine cover. 

While Mercedes’ designers have clearly been forced to rethink the concept for 2023 and perhaps, in some ways, be more conservative, it’s still a very different arrangement to either the downwash ramp or bathtub-style arrangement that we see elsewhere. 

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 W14
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Undoubtedly there’s still more wriggle room within the technical regulations for all the teams to express themselves but it is clear, at least at this stage, that there’s fewer successful design routes than was originally envisaged when the teams first put pen to paper. 

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