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Do F1 Cars Change Every Year? (F1 Car Rules Explained)

Over the course of the 70 plus years the championship has been active it is easy to see the changes that F1 cars have gone through. But it might be difficult for a less experienced viewer of Formula 1 to decern whether there are any differences in the cars from year to year.

F1 cars do change every year. The prime location that Formula 1 holds on the ladder of motorsport means that the improvements that teams make every year are often bleeding edge technological innovations unused anywhere else. Teams must also comply with yearly regulation changes.

Just because one year might introduce a regulation change outlawing some form of technology doesn’t mean that it won’t make a return in the future. Some changes that have been left behind have made their way back into the sport. Read on to learn about the intricacies of F1 car rules.

Do F1 Regulations Change Every Year?

F1 regulations do change every year, but that doesn’t mean that the whole car is different every year. Formula 1 cars have very specific regulations that are set by the FIA for each season. While some regulations will change yearly, some stay the same, so teams don’t need to start fresh each season.

If a team has a front wing that works well for them during the previous season, and the regulations for the next season don’t change at all for front wings, then often teams will use the same part again. It saves time and money in research and development that can be used on parts of the car that must change due to regulation changes or that just didn’t perform well in the previous season.

Big Regulation Changes

Every so often, normally around 3 to 5 years, the FIA introduces extreme aerodynamic or engine regulation changes that drastically change the nature of the cars. Though they are normally big changes, teams are given ample time to prepare for the first year of a new engine or aerodynamic era.

These changes are the most extreme changes that occur and are often what denote the biggest visual differences between each year of cars. These changes are also a time where there is such a shift in the design philosophies of the car that many of the teams that were lacking performance in the years prior have a chance to master the new regulations more quickly than the successful teams.

Why Do F1 Regulations Change Each Season?

Changes to the regulations governing F1 often come from a safety standpoint. The other reason regulations may change is an attempt to make the races more exciting for fans. This can be changes to the cars themselves or how the race weekends are structured. F1 is always looking to improve.

An example of changes to cars being made to improve safety is the halo system that became required for many levels of open-wheel racing, including F1 in 2018. Providing extra protection to the drivers of single seat race cars, this was a welcome change that did not receive much pushback.

The bulk of the new regulations introduced during the 2022 season were to promote the ability of cars being able to follow each other more closely through corners. So, aerodynamic changes were the most important changes that came for this season and the new aerodynamic era that will follow it.

Regulation Changes Due To Environmental Factors

Formula 1 has made it a priority to keep environmental factors in mind as the championship expands into the future. Formula 1 engines have gotten smaller and smaller over the course of the sport’s history. With a history of V12 engines being used, the sport used to have an engine philosophy of bigger is better. However, by 1994 Ferrari was the last team using a V12 engine.

Regulation Changes For Engines

In 2000, the FIA made the decision to require all Formula 1 cars to be powered by a V10 engine. This regulation lasted until 2006 when the switch to the smaller V8 was made. The V8 then lasted until 2014 before another change was made to make the engines even smaller and more energy efficient than they had ever been. This was the introduction of the turbo/hybrid era of Formula 1.

Each of these regulation changes surrounding the engine came with its own criticism. Despite this criticism, each smaller engine size has been beneficial to the performance of the cars. Even though there are some people that are sad to see the bigger, growling engines of the past fade into a memory, the future holds much more potential than the heavy engines of the past.

Turbo Hybrid Era

The turbo hybrid era that began in 2014 was the first time that a hybrid system had been used on Formula 1 cars. The engines were now V6 engines, much smaller than the V12s and V10s that came before it. The hybrid system included energy recovery systems as opposed to an electrical motor.

The combination of a smaller engine and the inclusion of energy recovery capability made Formula 1 cars much more energy efficient than they had been before. It has done a great job pushing formula 1 towards the goal of environmental friendliness while also increasing the overall performance of the cars as well. Another engine regulation change planned for 2026 will build on what has been started.

Do F1 Cars Change Every Year?

F1 cars do change in some way every year, even just in minor ways. Teams aim to improve upon their previous cars even if there are no major regulation changes. However, there are times when this is not possible due to setbacks in R&D or testing with the new car.

Although everyone that finds their way into Formula 1 at any capacity is generally at or near the top of their respective discipline, there are still some problems with the cars that cannot be fixed. If a team runs into a problem when deep into the development of their car for the upcoming season, they will have to cut their losses and reuse many of the same parts as their previous car.

The Pink Mercedes

One of the most notable iterations of a car being reused occurred in the 2020 season. However, it wasn’t a team reusing a car that they had designed previously. Instead, it was a car from a different team that had been used in the previous season. The car that Racing Point brought to preseason testing looked very similar to the Mercedes from the 2019 season.

The 2019 Mercedes was by far the fastest car on the track during the 2019 season, so it is not unreasonable to think that another team might choose to use some design queues from it for their next car. Though Racing Point does deny any copying of design from the 2019 Mercedes challenger, Mercedes was the engine provider for Racing Point and was in close contact with the team.

Racing Point was fined and had points deducted for the controversy but was ultimately allowed to compete with the car that they made anyways. Whether there was any foul play or not, Racing Point did improve quite a lot in 2020, with a pink version of a car that looked very familiar, compared to their 2019 campaign.

How Much Do F1 Cars Change Every Year?

How much F1 cars change each year depends on the year and the team. For instance, the 2022 season saw the biggest change in aerodynamics that had been seen for years. So, the differences in the immediate visual appearance of the 2021 cars versus the 2022 cars was much more noticeable.

Some teams only changed a few small things that did not prompt them to even come up with a completely different name for the car. One such example of this is the Williams challengers from the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The Williams F1 car for 2020 was named the FW43, and then the 2021 Williams car was named the FW43B.

With this type of naming scheme, along with the physical appearance of the cars, it is clear to see that Williams was not trying to make any long strides with their performance between the 2020 and 2021 season. Instead, they used their 2020 car to build a slightly upgraded version for 2021. With the time and money they saved by doing this, they were able to give themselves a head start for 2022.

Do Formula 1 Cars Change Throughout The Season?

Formula 1 cars do consistently change throughout a season. Teams are still attempting to perfect their cars even as the season gets underway. Preseason testing often leaves teams with more problems to fix than they expected. So, performance packages are developed and implemented during the season.

The schedule of each championship season can play heavily into when certain performance packages are implemented. If there is a track with long straights, then teams will likely opt to use a high-top speed performance package. If there is a track with a lot of hairpin turns, then a high downforce package is optimal.

Mid-Season Regulation Changes

Along with changes that teams willfully plan to make to their cars for performance boosts, Formula 1 is no stranger to mid-season changes to the rules. Some notable examples of this are the mass dampers from the 2006 season and the double diffusers from 2009.

The mass dampers were used by Renault in 2006 to lessen the effect of tire bouncing, which arguably gave them a very competitive advantage. With the rule change making these against the rules, Renault needed to change their car mid-season.

The double diffusers from 2009 were an interesting situation, because it was just a rule clarification rather than a change, but it prompted many teams to change their designs mid-season. Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota found a loophole in the rules that allowed them to use double diffusers for better aerodynamics. The FIA ended up acknowledging the loophole and the rest of the teams jumped at the opportunity.

Do F1 Drivers Get A New Car For Every Race?

F1 drivers do not get a new car for every race. If a driver finishes a race with little or no damage to their vehicle, then as long as the team doesn’t have any planned performance packages to implement at the next race the driver will drive the exact same car again for the next race.

Formula 1 teams deal with a lot of money, but they still can’t afford to waste money giving their driver a brand-new car to race in every single race weekend. The base chassis of the vehicle along with the major parts of the cars normally stay the same throughout the course of the entire season.

Two Cars At A Time

FIA regulations stipulate that Formula 1 teams are only allowed to have two running cars built at any one time during a season. Teams are allowed to have all the parts on hand at race weekends to build another car, but those parts are not allowed to be constructed into a new car unless the old car is deconstructed. Usually, these parts are used as replacement parts and not to build a new car.

Final Thoughts

It’s rare to see a F1 car that has no changes that have been implemented into its design from the previous season. However, it is somewhat common to see minimal changes from teams depending on the year in question. F1 rule changes can be controversial, but their goal is to benefit the sport.