Former F1 technical boss doubts impact of aero changes
Former Williams technical director Sam Michael believes the revised aerodynamic regulations heading into the 2019 Formula 1 season will not produce a shake-up to the established pecking order.
The Australian worked in the sport firstly with Lotus in the early 1990s before joining Jordan, Williams, and finally becoming McLaren’s racing director.
He left the F1 paddock and returned to Australia at the end of 2014 but has remained a keen observer despite now working predominantly in the mining and transportation industries.
Michael also has a consultancy role at leading Supercars squad Triple Eight.
It’s his belief that the new regulations surrounding front wings, which are simpler than last year in an effort to encourage greater overtaking by allowing the cars to follow one another more closely, will simply play to the favour of the largest teams.
“I’ve looked at the changes they’ve made around the front wing and bargeboards,” Michael told Speedcafe.com.
“They, first of all, have a significant effect on the primary flow structures which means setting up all the vortices that go underneath the floor, engage and make the diffuser work, make the floor work.
“As soon as you do that, you effectively give advantage to the biggest teams and the ones with the most ability to react very quickly and the most in-depth understandings.
“I don’t see that as a real big game changer,” he added of the likelihood of the changes to create a shake-up of the order established last year.
“I just see it, if anything, just cementing a bit more to the status quo.”
Michael does, however, believe that Ferrari will mount an increased challenge this year, pointing to its testing performance as evidence of a strong foundation for the coming campaign.
Sebastian Vettel last year fell short of securing his fifth world championship when the wheels fell off his title tilt following the mid-season break.
Strong form from Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, contrasted against errors by both Vettel and his Ferrari team, saw the title decided in Hamilton’s favour in Mexico.
However, Michael believes testing has shown the Scuderia to be the favourites heading into the new season.
“Ferrari definitely looks strongest, I would say from all the times that I’ve seen and the car and they have been very sensible with what they’ve done aerodynamically,” he reasoned.
“It’s always notoriously difficult to predict, but I think there’s enough strength there.
“So based on the long run performance and testing times in winter, in Spain – as we know, Barcelona is effectively like a big wind tunnel – that’s the most aero circuit on the whole calendar – they look very strong,” he added.
“Forget about top of the time tables, they’re almost a waste of time, the best indicator is long run and based on that I’d say Ferrari definitely got an edge.
“That can change a little bit in Melbourne. That could always take three or four races to play out if you got a good car at Barcelona then, that bodes pretty well for the year.
“Melbourne’s a very under steering track, it’s quite specific. So balance, you can make up for a lot of things with balance there, including the experience of the team.
“It’d be crazy to predict who’s going to win Melbourne but I think in terms of performance to start with, Ferrari looks best.”
Opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix begins today at noon local time/AEDT.