If there's one phrase you're certain to hear throughout the course of an F1 weekend, it's "Robert Kubica is in twentieth", which is guaranteed to be muttered at the end of each session. However, second to this is the term 'downforce'.
As the name implies, downforce is the push or pull on an object in a downward direction, but especially, a push or a pull which is the fault of airflow, as it relates to Formula One and racing as a whole.
See, the moment people began to find practical applications within Formula One for this newfangled concept of 'downforce', they hit the ground running. This entailed adding wings, and fins, and even fans, on every conceivable surface of the cars.
A dramatic example of the fin-covered cars which plagued F1 - source: Wikimedia Commons
By the late 2000's, cars were covered in ridiculous fins and little bits of aero. However, for the 2009 season, the FIA put rules in place which cut back on these small fins, and restricted teams' ability to add them.
And, even though cars no longer look quite as complicated in their design, downforce figures continue to rise as teams exploit other means of suction-production like the double-diffuser, as well as more standard options.
The rise in downforce produces faster cars, and subsequently, a greater spectacle; or so it would seem at the base level.
There are downsides to downforce - many of which have been well-documented, such as dirty air. However, there are more cons than meets the eye, and to prove it, allow me to turn your attention to Indycar.
For many years, Indycar followed Formula One's path, and the American series reached even further extremes. For much of the 2010s, Indy cars looked like the one pictured above, with absolutely mind-bending amounts of downforce - up to 6500 lbs at one point, which is more than an F1 car currently has.
Eventually, Indycar's governing body put an end to the madness like the FIA had before them with a new aero kit in 2018, and apart from the obvious pros like more downforce when following, drivers were far happier driving the cars, and having more fun, as two time series champion Josef Newgarden eloquently explained once in a piece on Road & Track.
"For starters, the car now moves a lot more in a corner, because the air is doing less to keep it planted... It takes more finesse to put the power down. And steering effort has dropped. This is great. As a driver, I want the car to move more. I want it to be more difficult to drive. Most drivers are like that; they want a car that makes them work hard,"
Several other drivers concurred with Newgarden, such as Juan Pablo Montoya, and as an Indycar-watcher, I must say even I can see the difference. The cars dance around the circuit in the most beautiful way - a lively yet careful balance between man and machine which could go sideways (literally) in the blink of an eye. This, compared to in years prior when cars, planted to the track, seemingly stuck on rails.
However, one series still suffers from an excess of downforce: Formula One.
Not only do the cars look more less lively on track, but the extra aero does put more power to the driver to go fast. It's been said that success in F1 is 80% the doing of the car, and only 20% the fault of the driver. However, with decreased downforce we will see the drivers making more of a difference, and having a greater impact on the result, as they'll have to wrestle the car around the track in order to complete a fast lap.
And so, while the reduced aerodynamic grip on the 2021 F1 cars may seem like an unfortunate sacrifice which must be made, it's more a pro than a con in my book.