After 11 races in the 2021 F1 season, you can roughly split the teams into three groups when it comes to updating their cars for the remainder of the season.
There are those that shifted their focus to 2022 immediately, those that developed for some time before looking to next year and those that remain intent on getting the most out of their 2021 car.
With major rule changes coming into effect next year along with a budget cap, teams have a lot to think about when it comes to planning their future, so who will and who won't continue to update their 2021 contenders?
Those at the back
Haas opted to look past the 2021 season almost in its entirety, arriving at the first race of the season in Bahrain with the mandatory updates before finishing the development of their VF21 with minor changes at Imola. The American-led team haven't hidden the fact that they've been hard at work on their 2022 car for quite some time.
While Haas may have been the first team to look ahead, others soon followed. Williams, who collected their first points last time out in Hungary, also shifted their focus to 2022 early on. The team have featured at the back of the grid in recent seasons and felt their resources would be better spent on next year.
"We've been focusing on 2022 for a while now," Team Principal Jost Capito stated at the Hungarian GP. "We'll only improve if we see there is something obvious that can be improved with this year's car. If we have the capacity to do it, beside the 2022 car, then we'll do it, but the full focus is on next year."
As for Alfa Romeo, team boss Fred Vasseur explained that they would be following Williams' lead.
"We've been working full-time on 2022 for months now," Vasseur stated in early July. "We are in the part of the grid where it's quite difficult for us to catch up, so it makes sense to switch completely to next season."
Franz Tost shared AlphaTauri's thoughts, making it clear the team would be looking ahead once the summer break hit.
"It is a difficult decision," Tost told Formula1.com. "From the end of July, or August, the team will 100 percent be concentrated on the development of the AT03 in 2022. Every day you lose in the development process is a disadvantage next year."
The same goes for Alpine, with team boss Marcin Budkowski stating the team quickly moved on to 2022, a decision they feel was the right one.
"I think we've done a decent job," said Budkowski. "Not the worst and not the best, but we could have done better. On the engine side, we lost ground because we didn't develop it further, we have a major evolution next year.
"We recovered some of the performance at the beginning of the year, but then we pulled the plug and moved on to 2022. I'm completely comfortable with that because it's the right thing to do in terms of balancing the benefits of what we could have done this season compared to the next."
Aston Martin, who struggled early in the season due to their low-rake concept, also stated that they would no longer be bringing any major upgrades after the Hungarian GP.
"We are going to improve this car a little bit more by understanding it, as opposed to bringing great, big upgrades," said Chief Executive Officer and Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer. "And then the team back at the base is focused on 2022. But I think they've done a wonderful job getting the car to where it is now. I mean, almost every part that's been licked by the wind has been changed."
While Ferrari and McLaren are in a close battle for third in the Constructors' Championships, Sporting Director Laurent Mekies explained in France that there would be no more updates for the Scuderia's SF21.
"From a car development point of view, we have already made our decisions," Mekies told Formula1.com. "It is all on 2022, and there will be no real upgrade coming to improve these weaknesses [on the SF21].
"You can always work on [the issues] by simply understanding them better, and if you understand them better – either because you correlate them better or you simply understand what are the reasons for which we are performing a bit less in those conditions – it can open the door to solutions that you can already apply."
The same can't be said for McLaren, who are the only midfield team willing to develop their car after the summer break, with some new updates expected once the season resumes.
“I think with everything we’re doing now, it’s not putting next year’s project at risk," said Team Principal Andreas Seidl.
"Whenever we had, let’s say... the capacity we were using until recent weeks was used to improve this year’s car, that’s [what] we did in the last few weeks and that's what we still do until at least the first few races after the break.
"The majority of the resources are clearly focused on next year's car. But sometimes there is low-hanging fruits when you can make the decision where it makes sense to spend the extra energy and resources in order to take the opportunity."
The two championship contenders
Lastly, we have the two top teams. Mercedes and Red Bull are battling it out for the world title, meaning they both have important decisions to make in terms of balancing development in 2021 vs 2022. While both teams have no doubt started working on their new cars, they also can't lose sight of the prize this year.
Mercedes say they are taking things a little slower than Red Bull when it comes to the current season, as Chief Technical Officer James Allison revealed that the upgrade at Silverstone was the last major one planned by the team.
The focus back at the factory is now on 2022, though there may be a few more tweaks after the summer break, possibly at Zandvoort. Otherwise, the focus is on next year, with team boss Toto Wolff stating that any teams doing things differently risk being left behind in 2022.
Red Bull are doing things differently, with their last title coming back in 2013 – which compares with Mercedes winning the last seven. If it were up to Christian Horner, Red Bull would be working on the RB16B until Abu Dhabi in order to give Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez the best car possible.
"I think we'll stop development in Abu Dhabi," Horner recently commented, somewhat jokingly. "We have to look at things week by week." It's a sentiment shared by fellow team chiefs Adrian Newey and Helmut Marko, who confirmed Red Bull would continue to develop their car after the summer break.
McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull are the teams willing to take a gamble, to different degrees, compared to their competitors in the 2021 vs 2022 debate. It remains to be seen whether the risk will pay off in the end, especially as we won't be getting any definitive answers until next year at the earliest.
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