The most obvious difference between the 2021 cars and their 2022 replacements is their visual design. For 2022 the way in which F1 cars generate downforce is different, and this is reflected in the designs.
Up till 2022 F1 cars generated downforce via airflow through complex, delicate front-wings and various flaps and devices mounted on the sides of the car, and a lot of effort has gone into directing exhaust gases to generate further downforce. For 2022, it’s all about something called ‘ground effect’. Ground effect downforce is something Formula 1 has experimented with before, in the 1980s, but the idea was banned because cornering speeds were seen as dangerously high (ground effect downforce, married to the monstrously powerful turbo engines of the 80s, meant even the smallest failure on the part of man or machine would have been disastrous). The notion has returned, and with it, the front-wings of the 2022 cars are much simpler. The flaps and devices on the sidepods are gone. The rear-wing is higher and redesigned to make it harder to exploit exhaust gases.
There is a purpose to all this. One of the biggest problems in F1 has been getting close enough to the car in front to make a passing move. The trailing car is caught in the ‘dirty air’ of the car in front (the turbulent wake as air is thrown out from the rear), and it therefore cannot ‘grab’ the air it needs to make the most of its own aerodynamic qualities. This is not so bad down a straight, but through mid and high-speed corners it drastically affects performance. The car has to rely more on mechanical grip (the tyres) and following dirty air can cause brakes and tyres to overheat. Thus, close racing tends to be somewhat rare, or at least, rarer than many would like. F1’s owners, Liberty Media, want to create more entertainment, and closer racing is seen as one way to accomplish this. Hence, the ground effect car.
The airflow will be directed under the car, and this will be the primary means for generating downforce. As a result, the trailing car will retain around 86% of its downforce when following another car, whereas in 2021 it retained only 55%.
Will this actually make a difference? Well, a lot of dedicated engineers and designers have been working on this idea for a number of years, so hopefully it will yield closer action on track.