PALMER: How the drivers will be experiencing the 2022 cars from the cockpit
It’s an exciting time for the drivers heading into 2022, with all-new cars to get their heads around and a whole new set of challenges and feelings from the cockpit, with this new generation of machines.
The basic principles of testing remain the same: to get as much mileage in as possible in order to learn about the car, and get a steer on which set-up direction to pursue. But with so much being new, the cars should, in theory, be a lot further away from being an ‘end product’ at the moment.
As of Day 2 of pre-season running in Barcelona, everyone has done a remarkable amount of mileage so far, with the exception of Alfa Romeo and Haas – more so than would have been expected given the rule changes and new cars.
This means most of them were able to get into the feel of the car on Day 1 already.
I’m sure the most obvious thing every driver will have felt to some extent is porpoising, the bumping effect which seems to be occurring predominantly at the end of the main straight.
Some teams have suffered worse than others in this department, and for the worst of them this must make the car feel relatively undriveable in the early laps. The bumpy effect is disconcerting to the drivers who have to pick a braking point for the important Turn 1 corner with impaired vision from the vibrations and probably an unstable aero platform. Not only that, but it’s also uncomfortable to be strapped into a car, sitting as low as they are and being bounced around like that.
Some teams figured this out as early as on a filming day and made quick changes, while others looked to still be suffering a lot well into Day 2.
Aside from porpoising, the speed of the cars, and their characteristics in the corners, is different in 2022.
High-speed cornering has been impressive immediately, with the ground effect working to generate downforce from under the car – and this would give the drivers a lot of confidence in the overall feel early on.
But the cost is in the low-speed. The cars are heavier this year, with lower rear ride heights as well. Many drivers were saying the cars feel a little clumsier through the tighter corners, particularly the final chicane in Barcelona. This has been the most noticeable performance loss reported, and probably one of the biggest areas to get on top of early on in the running.
There might even be a need for a change in driving style here, or even driving lines, to keep the car stable in these corners. And with stiffer suspensions and low-profile tyres, riding the kerbs and bumps which the drivers have done routinely around Barcelona for years may feel slightly more aggressive as well.
The fundamental viewpoint for the drivers has changed for this year as well.
From the outside, the cars look quite different, and from the cockpit that is also the case. The new 18” tyres sit higher than their 13” predecessors, and with fins over the top of them, visibility will be reduced and car placement will be harder, particularly when we get to street circuits.
But once again, the final low-speed sector at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will be the best early gauge of this for the drivers.
With new Pirelli tyres to get a feel for as well – with a different construction hoping to reduce thermal degradation issues – this is proving to be one of the most full-on winters in a while for the drivers.