The paddock experts suspected it, but F1i has proven it today: the Ferrari has indeed been impacted by the technical directive introduced in Belgium.
NO PROBLEM AT THE DEVELOPMENT LEVEL…
In sport as elsewhere, the rules define the scope of what is authorized and what is not. This is especially true in Formula 1, where the engineers get as close to the yellow line as possible… sometimes crossing it. The FIA must then clarify the gray areas of the text, as Ferrari and Mercedes have learned to their cost.
Let’s start with the Scuderia. His last victory dates back to the Austrian Grand Prix. In the eight races contested since, the team has signed six pole positions but has not won any victories. This collapse in the performance of the F1-75 for a few months has sown doubt in the minds of the Italian engineers. Could they have taken the wrong direction of development with the new flat bottom introduced in France?
To find out, they compared the old and the new version of the underbody during several free practice sessions. Verdict of the exercise: the Paul-Ricard version marks progress and therefore validates the direction of research. Reassured, the team introduced in Japan an evolution based on the same concept:
“In Formula 1, it is essential to ensure that we are moving in the right direction, explained Jock Clear, Maranello’s performance engineer, at Suzuka. As soon as you wonder if you are on the right path or not, you absolutely must stop and look at the map. That’s what we did. It cost us performance in the last five races, but we had no choice.
“So we stopped to look at the plan and were reassured that we were following the right direction of development. We are very confident about that.”
… BUT CHANGES ON THE BOARD
Very good. But if the development is not in question, what then explains the fall in competitiveness of the Ferrari? To understand, you have to start by specifying that the single-seater of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz kept its speed over one lap (as evidenced by the Spaniard’s pole position in Austin, and the low deficit [0”010] on Verstappen in Japan). In the race, on the other hand, the red racing car loses its luster because it degrades its tires too quickly. What makes the F1-75 fast on Saturday is precisely what penalizes it on Sunday. It manages to warm up its front tires faster than the Red Bull: this advantage in qualifying turns into a handicap in the race.
“What we have seen this season is that the Ferrari heats up its tires more easily before, confirmed this weekend Simone Berra, Pirelli’s chief engineer. But it can cause you to generate too much heat while running. The Red Bull is better on a long stint.”
This premature tire wear has increased since mid-season, and particularly since the Belgian Grand Prix (the F1-75 was in on the action in France and Hungary, but a driving error and then a strategy error ruined the hopes of Cavallino). However, it was at Spa that the FIA began to apply the technical directive TD39 relating to the assembly of the board.
Since the entry into force of the directive, the wear of the board and its rigidity are controlled more precisely and Ferrari had to review the way in which this « board » (actually permaglass, a mixture of fiberglass and resin epoxy) is attached to the underbody, as shown in our exclusive images.
On the first, we see that the base of the front metal pad is no longer square, but rounded. We also notice that the pads installed further back on the board are smaller and only need two fixing cavities (instead of three). On the second, we observe that the upper face of the flat bottom has also undergone changes at the places corresponding to the attachment points of the board.
As you can see, there have been some changes. But what have they changed? In the paddock, it is suspected that there was a thin gap between the flat bottom and the base of the monocoque. And that this cavity was filled with an absorbent material, a kind of memory foam capable of retracting and absorbing shocks even with very low ground clearance. Since the application of the directive, Ferrari would have been obliged to raise the ride height of the F1-75, which would have disturbed its balance and amplified the deterioration of its front tires, which Charles Leclerc still suffered in Austin.
Although the transalpine engineers are the only ones to know the truth, the modifications to the floor are proven and coincide with the loss of speed of the Prancing Horse. Even if Mattia Binotto claims the opposite, Ferrari has therefore indeed been impacted by the technical directive.
SILVER ARROWS IN THE GRAY ZONE?
Mercedes has brought its ultimate package of aerodynamic novelties to Austin. The front wing has received five new elements… the function of which divides Brackley and the FIA.
The technical regulations authorize the installation of reinforcements between the two flaps of the fin, provided that their primary mission is to improve the rigidity between the flaps. However, the shape of the reinforcements that appeared on the W13 this weekend attests that their real role is aerodynamic: these parts act as deflectors directing the flow of air towards the sides.
However, the 2022 regulations were aimed precisely at eliminating the outwash effect, that is to say the deviation of the air flow towards the sides, with the aim of generating a flow which takes with it the turbulence produced by the rotation of the front wheels and away from the flat bottom. If this phenomenon brings performance, it generates a lot of turbulence, which disturbs the following car and complicates overtaking. This is why the FIA wanted to make it impossible by imposing a new geometry on the front wing.
It was without counting on the imagination of F1 engineers. Mercedes’ solution reinstates the outwash thanks to a very creative interpretation of the rules. Aware that it was flirting with the limit, the team had sent its CAD files to the FIA, which had validated the concept… before retracting this weekend.
“As usual, we submitted our drawings to the FIA, who then came back to us to say that they were unsure of our interpretation.says Mercedes Technical Director Mike Elliot. In the rules, the word ‘single goal’ is mentioned about forty times. But in the paragraph concerning reinforcements, the text speaks of ‘primary purpose’, which is different. We can therefore debate on this point, and we will decide what to do next this week.”
“Personally, I’d be more in favor of using it in Mexico City (we didn’t ride it here, as we only had one). But is the small gain it brings worth the risk of getting into trouble with the stewards? We’ll think about it from here to Mexico.”
If the team did not mount the front wing this weekend, it did however test a flat bottom retouched on the edges, as well as the rear wing redesigned at the level of the fins to gain efficiency (less drag for the same load). The chassis has also lost a few pounds.
The W13 has progressed, but not enough to compete on a regular basis with the RB18, devilishly faster than the Mercedes (+ 7.9 km/h in qualifying, + 9.1 km/h in the race) and than the Ferrari (+ 4.3 km/h in qualifying, + 7.5 km/h in the race).
These latest developments are intended less to gain a few km/h than to validate research directions for the W14, which will be based on another philosophy:
“The DNA of the car will change next year, announced Toto Wolff in Austin. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the body will be very different, but the DNA of the car, its architecture, will change.
F1 USA: A BIT OF FERRARI ON THE ALPINE
Just after introducing a new flat bottom (in Singapore), Alpine tweaked it again in the US. The edge of the flat bottom has been cut to make room for a perpendicular fin (yellow arrow).
This design was invented by Ferrari, before being copied by Haas, Red Bull and today Enstone. While Red Bull used it little (Verstappen never retained it, while Pérez used it in races at Spa, Zandvoort and Monza), Alpine fitted it to its two cars.
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With a hundred fewer people than the biggest teams, Alpine has a little more budget to develop its car. Especially since the A522 was designed with modularity in mind, so that small bodywork elements can be changed on the car without having to manufacture a complete new part.
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