The development battle seen during the 2023 F1 season was “more cutthroat than it has been,” according to Bernie Collins.
The ex-Aston Martin strategist, now working as a broadcaster and pundit, has a unique insight into the no-holds-barred F1 battlefield.
Speaking with Speedcafe on a recent episode of the KTM Summer Grill, Collins suggested the development race went up a notch last season.
“It's been a year where the development race has been more cutthroat than it has been in other years,” she observed.
“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.
“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.”
That was a key story throughout the 2023 campaign, with some teams proving more consistent than others, but none, aside from Red Bull, was a safe bet.
It was a year dominated by a degree of uncertainty in the midfield, which had by the end of the year closed up significantly.
“When you look further back, so from P2 to P5, P6, those teams have had one race [where] one's quicker, one race another's quicker.
“Right until the end, we didn't know who's in second in the constructors'.
“If we that that forward into next year, that's going not lead to a really good year because those battles behind have been really tight, much rither than we've seen in previous years.
“The longer that we keep with this, these regulations over the next two or three years it's going to continue, I think.”
That, Collins argues, is a result of F1 teams having an imperfect understanding of their car and development, leading to very public gains and losses.
“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.
That prompted some to change direction mid-season, while others, such as Mercedes, had flaws that were more deeply baked into their 2023 designs.
As a result, there's real potential for another reset for 2024 as teams who make significant changes risk falling backwards in their quest to leap ahead.
“Are they going to get it right?” asked Collins and Mercedes' plight.
“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,” she added.
“Race 1 is always exciting to see who's ahead, who's behind. And we don't know.”