Alpine has explained the pair of problems it encountered in the windtunnel over the winter, which cost the team “a few weeks of development” on its 2021 Formula 1 car.
The rebranded Renault team has started the new season on the backfoot and is in the process of bringing a series of updates to the A521, which has so far earned just three points in the opening two races.
Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowski revealed at Imola two weeks ago that the team had “experienced some headwind” in the off-season and that slowed development, though the details were vague at that point.
F1 teams had to adjust to a quartet of aerodynamic changes for this year around the rear of the car, mainly on the floor.
Budkowski elaborated on Alpine’s setback on Friday ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix, while also correcting some inaccurate media reports that it was an issue with the windtunnel itself when he had stressed it was “in the windtunnel”.
“That’s two-fold,” he said when asked by The Race to explain the nature and severity of the problems.
“We had issues related to the actual change of regulations and the various flow features that it kind of induced on the car.
“And we had issues with the hardware, the tunnel and the testing as well.
“The consequence is not that we lost more performance than others, or lost differently.
“It’s just that we lost time, development time, which is a valuable currency in Formula 1, because everybody has the same amount of testing they can do. It’s limited by regulations.
“So, when you are trying to stabilise your aerodynamic flow features, or you are trying to get your tunnel to give you the right numbers, the others during this time actually continue developing the car and performance.
“That’s effectively what happened, we lost a few weeks of development and weeks of development just transformed into tenths of seconds.
“Is this related to the aerodynamic features, is this related to next year? Well, next year is a completely different ballgame, it’s a completely different car, different set of regulations.
“In terms of improvements to our hardware and our infrastructure, it’s continuous improvement. We’ve solved our issues and so we continue to invest and improve our windtunnel.
“Fingers crossed we don’t get issues again next year but certainly it’s served us to improve our understanding and our development capability.”
While we now know more about the issues that have cost Alpine development time, the exact causes remain unclear.
The reference to the impact of the new rules on various flow features suggests that Alpine could have encountered flaws in the early ideas that it adopted for the new 2021 aero rules and unforeseen aerodynamic characteristics were only revealed in the windtunnel.
It’s also still not clear what the “hardware” issue was, considering windtunnels are so complex and that could mean any number of things.
Budkowski’s comments suggest that it could be a calibration issue, given his remark that it was about extracting accurate data.
That would tally with his suggestion that Alpine made changes to its windtunnel processes and subsequently encountered problems.
“You make changes, you improve your tunnel, you try to improve the way you test and sometimes you hit problems while doing that,” he said.
“There’s no particular reason [why the issues occurred together], it’s just that the two, unfortunately, happened at the same time.”
Understanding the nature of the problems is important as teams are preparing for those new 2022 rules.
Next year’s car is a huge departure from the current regulations and teams have tighter development restrictions than ever, which means the consequences for wasting windtunnel time will be even harsher.