SportF1How Ferrari remains at the forefront of F1 despite...

How Ferrari remains at the forefront of F1 despite no improvements

The Ferrari F1-75 looked fast from the first day of 2022 Formula 1 testing in Barcelona in February, and that pace has been maintained through the first three race weekends.

In fact, at the Australian GP, the car had a clear advantage over the Red Bull RB18 , having been fairly evenly matched in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Ferrari’s season so far is that, unlike its main rivals, the team has changed very little since that first day of testing and has not introduced any upgrade packages.

There are several aspects to take into account in Ferrari’s strategy. First of all, the car was fast from the start and had no major flaws. Like others it suffers from poising, but the team seems to have found a way to live with it, without being forced to compromise performance as much as some rivals have had to.

By not changing the car every week, the team has been able to gain a deeper understanding of the car, allowing the engineers to start each grand prix with a good basic setup.

That, in turn, has the added bonus of allowing the drivers to fully familiarize themselves with the car and what it requires of them, although it took Carlos Sainz a bit longer to adjust than it did for Charles Leclerc.

The big picture is that by not having to introduce new parts at short notice to find performance, Ferrari has been able to control its pace in terms of R&D. The team can focus on perfecting new things that it knows will work when it puts them on the track, rather than speed things up that haven’t been thoroughly tested, looking to put out fires.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

In an era where the budget ceiling puts a limit on what you can do over the course of a full season, that’s a crucial advantage.

“Fortunately, the car is good from the start,” says Ferrari’s director of chassis operations, Claudio Albertini . “So it’s good news for us, because then we can focus on good development.”

“With these new rules you have to have a different approach compared to the past, because with the budget cap, we actually have to be very careful, because every development that is not working is also a waste of money, in addition to not giving performance to the car.

“The conditions are different from the past. We have to work in a different way. But it is clear that there will be future developments also from our side. Also, since this concept car is very new, there are many things that we are still investigating, and that we want to try.”

Ultimately, Ferrari has been able to hold back from introducing new parts because the car was good from the start, with enough pace to win races.

“Luckily we met expectations,” says Albertini. “So, in a way, you see that the car has potential. And, as I said, we were able to detect from the beginning of the project the parts of the car that had more performance and focus on those.”

“Now we understand that our first idea was good, because the important parts are in good condition and we are going in that direction. So we are still following the base plan that we had from last year.”

Ferrari introduced a different flat bottom in Australia but, as planned, Leclerc used it only on Friday, before returning to normal specification for the rest of the weekend.

It was purely a data-gathering exercise that will help bigger and more permanent changes later on, and it was a good example of the team making efficient use of a Friday practice session.

“We had a new element in the diffuser,” says Albertini. “Actually, it’s a part that changed the shape of the floor. It was a test item. We knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t use it in qualifying and the race. And it’s normal at this time, with less real car testing, to use Friday for development”.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

“It was something related, obviously, to the aerodynamics of the car. And our aim is to better understand the flow of air, especially on the ground and the bottom of the car.

“These special components are meant to collect information. So actually we test that component, we have sensors in the car, we do all the measurements and then we bring all the information home.”

“And then they can be correlated with our calculations, with data from the wind tunnel. It’s one way we can match the real car and the tunnel car, and so we have a better picture. For the development of the car during the season, that’s the first step”.

“It wasn’t something that was supposed to be better or worse. It was a useful thing to have a different amount of data to study at home.”

“The flat bottom is obviously the most important part of Formula 1. And this car philosophy is very new. So we are still understanding things. Time passes, and so we are focusing on different parts of the bottom, trying to improve it in general.”

Doing that kind of testing before building enough new flat bottoms for one race weekend is another example of how the budget cap affects how and when teams release updates.

“Of course, as I said, the budget cap has an impact on how we work this season,” says Albertini. “It is extremely important, when there is a development, that the new component is good, otherwise there is a waste of money and a waste of time.”

“Getting it right from the beginning led us to a process of improvement instead of bringing in new parts and having the old ones no longer used. Because that wouldn’t be helpful from a budget cap perspective either.”

“Sometimes it’s a bit like making a bet. You bring the part, and if you wear it earlier and it’s fine, then you’re more relaxed and you develop. But if you bet and you get to the second test with the new component and then it doesn’t work, it’s worse”.

While aerodynamic parts are obviously the main focus of development for the new Ferrari cars, like the other teams, they are also looking to reduce weight.

“At the moment it is in parallel,” explains Albertini. “Because weight is very important, because these cars are heavier. Without a doubt, weight reduction is a big goal in our development.”

“We have aerodynamic development, mechanical development, weight development, so we go in parallel with different programs, and we put ourselves where we can see that there is more need. It is something that goes hand in hand at the moment.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Saving weight costs money, but as Albertini points out, so does everything else.

“Even a light part like the floor is extremely expensive. Sure, having a light car means we have to rebuild the metal parts, making them in different materials. So in a way it’s a big cost. aerodynamic development, even if the part is not related to weight, is very, very expensive!”

As we have said, a stable car helps the drivers to get the most out of it every weekend, as they become more familiar with its quirks. Is it more a matter of the riders adapting or the set-up adjusting to their styles?

“As usual, it’s a bit of both,” says Albertini. “This car was new to the drivers, and it was new to us. We had to understand a little bit, because they had to change the way they had to drive, because this car has a different downforce and mechanical set-up compared to the last year”.

“It has to be driven differently. So, as a team, we have to understand what is the best way for the talent of the driver. And the driver, in some way, has to adapt. It’s a bit of both, I insist, and we have to balance it.”

The new tires are a key element that the team and drivers have had to understand and another aspect where a stable car has helped in the process.

Ferrari found, for example, that typically two laps of preparation on the soft tire is optimal for qualifying.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

“I think it depends a lot on the circuit,” admits Albertini. “It’s a bit spread out between tyres, tarmac and environmental conditions. It’s also part of the testing we do on Fridays. It’s not like we’re going to come in and know from the start that maybe we need a warm-up lap, or maybe we don’t.”

“It’s something you have to try as well. And you also see that some teams are doing it and some aren’t.”

Now that the Maranello racers will race in their country, and have an obvious desire to please the local crowd, Ferrari could be tempted to bring a major upgrade package to the Emilia Romagna GP.

However, Imola is a sprint race weekend, and with only one session before qualifying on Friday, there is no point in interrupting the winning car.

“I think it’s going to be a tough weekend in terms of bringing updates and trying to assess them in Friday’s session,” team boss Mattia Binotto said in Australia.

“Because obviously you need to focus on qualifying in the afternoon. At least speaking for ourselves, there won’t be much at Imola because we think it won’t be the right place.”

“We try to mitigate, let me put it this way, the issues that we still have so far, I’m thinking of porpoising, which already affected our performance during the last weekend. So we try to work on that specific point.”

“But updates, and more significant ones, will come later in the season.”

The big question now is how much development potential can be found in the F1-75 compared to rival Red Bull’s RB18 ? We will only know the answer as the weeks and months go by.

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