Formula 1 development race more 'cutthroat' than ever – Collins

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Former Aston Martin strategist and current Sky F1 contributor Bernie Collins has observed that the development race seen during the 2023 F1 season was a “cutthroat” affair that kept the teams more than ever on their toes from beginning to end.

Collins attributed the intense development war to the tight margins between teams and to the unpredictability of the cars' performance.

“It's been a year where the development race has been more cutthroat than it has been in other years,” she observed.

Collins highlighted the contrasting fortunes of McLaren and Aston Martin as a prime example of the unpredictable nature of the development battle.

McLaren, which started the season poorly, made aggressive upgrades that propelled the Woking-based outfit to podium contention, while Aston Martin's initial strength faded amidst a series of setbacks.

“We see McLaren at the start of the year, really poor performance compared to what I certainly expected from them in the opening races, and there was really aggressive upgrades, really bringing the car forward, which is, at the end of the year, it's pretty much always on the podium,” Collins explained.

“Then, the opposite appearing to be true of, like, Aston Martin, where they started the year so strongly and then it appeared that the upgrades weren't working and through the middle of the year had this massive slump.

“So the development race in these regs seems to be really tight, and it seems to be really close between teams getting the car right, and in the right working window, or the car totally not working at all.”

With the exception of Red Bull, no team could be considered a surefire bet.

Throughout the year, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren all had moments where they could stake a claim as the second-best car on the grid, while even Alpine showcased commendable performances on various occasions.

The unpredictability remained prevalent throughout the season in F1's midfield, with a significant tightening observed by the end of the year.

“It's been that the midfield, or not even the midfield but like the front of the battle – excluding Red Bull and Max [Verstappen] – has been really tight the entire year.

“Right until the end, we didn't know who was in second in the Constructors' [championship].

“The longer that we keep with this - these regulations - over the next two or three years, it's going to continue, I think.”

Sky F1 technical commentator Bernie Collins

Collins attributed a big part of the uncertainty to the teams' imperfect understanding of their cars and the development processes, leading to sudden swings in performance.

“The number of teams coming out and saying they don't even understand why it's not working is a bit like, from an engineering point of view, a bit shocking,” she admitted.

The teams’ lack of clarity led to trial-and-error development for some while others – like Mercedes – implemented a change of concept that altered their course midway through the season.

“Are they going to get it right?” asked Collins regarding Mercedes' deeper-seated issues.

“So far, they've had two goes at this sort of regulation that we have now, this really high performance [at] lower [ride heights] and they've not got it right.

“How's that going to look at Race 1 next year? And as other people develop over the winter, again, are they going to be in the right or wrong direction?

“So from now until February, you don't have a read on whether what you're doing is correct or incorrect.

“Race 1 is always exciting to see who's ahead, who's behind. And we don't know.”

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