It has been six Grands Prix since the Scuderia has not won a single race. But where has the speed that drove F1-75 at the start of the season gone? Here are three reasons for its sagging.
1. BECAUSE ITS DEVELOPMENT HAS TAKEN A WRONG DIRECTION
Since the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Prancing Horse no longer manages to gallop on Sundays, while he still rides on Saturdays. The reason ? If the propensity of the F1-75 to heat up its tires helps it in qualifying, it handicaps it in the race. In Budapest, Spa and Zandvoort, his rear tires tended to overheat during the Grand Prix, forcing Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to ease off in order to limit thermal degradation. At Monza, it was the front left tire that wore prematurely, as had already happened earlier in the season (notably at Imola and Miami).
In short, while the Ferrari remains fast over a lap, its racing rhythm is disturbed by its poor use of rubber, which would be caused by aerodynamic factors. The Maranello engineers suspect that the new flat bottom introduced in France has certainly made it possible to generate more downforce in absolute terms, but that it has also contributed to unbalancing the car. So, to find out for sure, they ran Carlos Sainz with the old version of the flat bottom in free practice on Friday at Monza.
“In the last races, where the tires deteriorated quite a bit, we had problems with the balance of the car, admits Mattia Binotto. Having an open balance, in fast and slow corners, generated overheating in the tires, whose performance deteriorated.
“In our opinion, this imbalance is due to aerodynamic developments. The F1-75’s operating window is no longer as wide as it used to be… We’ve reached an impasse, which limits our adjustment options. By looking for more support, we lost in ease of operation.”
« That’s why we ran a benchmark at Monza: to collect data, analyze it at the factory and find a full explanation of what’s going on. »
Does this remind you of anything? In 2018, the SF71H experienced erratic development (a new suspension introduced in Russia complicated the exploitation of rubber, forcing the team to backtrack)which prevented the Cavallino from remaining in contact with the Silver Arrows.
That year, strategic mistakes had also cost him a lot of points, if not the world title, in 2017 and 2018.
Today, everything happens as if Maranello had not really learned the lessons of these painful experiences.
2. BECAUSE RED BULL HAS PROGRESSED
Conversely, Red Bull sought to open their car’s operating window as much as possible, rather than increasing downforce at all costs. Instead of spending his budget making lots of versions of the rear wing like Maranello (which produced twice as many), Milton Keynes preferred to rework the flat bottom spoilers (in Azerbaijan, Austria, France), in order to to make downforce more constant in the turns, with a double benefit: giving the driver more confidence and limiting tire degradation.
In doing so, the RB18 has become more versatile. It continues to excel on tracks requiring high aerodynamic efficiency (Spa, Baku), but it is now also competitive on circuits requiring a lot of downforce (such as Budapest or Zandvoort), which was not really the case in start of the season.
Under the technical regulations, the 2022 single-seaters all have a narrower operating window (i.e. a configuration where its performance is maximum) than their predecessors (harder suspension, reduced aerodynamic margin of maneuver, etc.). ). The key is therefore to widen it as much as possible, which is exactly what Adrian Newey (who himself designed the suspensions of the RB18) did. The Ferrari stays a little quicker in qualifying, but the Red Bell takes over in the race because it better manages the changing tires and weight over the laps. Today, favoring the qualifying race is a relevant choice because the 2022 F1 cars are less sensitive to turbulence than before. This new physiognomy of the Grands Prix, the winged Bull understood it better than the Prancing Horse.
Also, the RB18 shed a lot of excess pounds over the races. Above the minimum weight of 10 kg (against 5 at the Ferrari), it would only exceed the critical threshold by 2 to 5 kg today, which would result in a time gain of between one and two tenths of a second. around. A benefit that is all the less negligible as the weight loss treatment removed kilos from crucial places in the single-seater, as Max Verstappen pointed out in Italy:
“Not only was the car far above the minimum weight, but this excess weight was also located in the wrong places. There was too much weight on the front, which is why it understeered and locked its wheels easily.”
Thanks to this rev, the RB18 has gained a few tenths and now benefits from a weight distribution more to the liking of its star driver, as it allows him to turn the car earlier in the corner. If this new balance doesn’t sit well with Pérez, it makes Verstappen all but unbeatable, even without a lightweight chassis (too expensive to produce or too controversial in the face of Ferrari’s doubts about the seemingly unlimited budget capabilities of Milton Keynes – who didn’t produce as much fins than Maranello…).
Finally, the Red Bull has proven to be a devilishly efficient machine when it comes to aerodynamics, meaning that it generates very little drag compared to the downforce it produces. At Monza, its aerodynamic finesse (better than that of the Ferrari as explained here) was obvious ‒ even enigmatic: the RB18 was indeed almost as fast as the Ferrari in a straight line despite a much steeper wing…
How is it possible ? This advantage does not come from the Honda engine, given that, according to GPS tracks, the four engines would produce more or less the same power (the Japanese V6 would even develop some five horsepower as the original Ferrari engine, according to estimates by ‘Auto Motor and Sport).
According to the paddock rumor (to be taken with caution), this finesse is explained by the ability of Adrian Newey’s latest creation to « unhook » the rear in a straight line, that is to say to cause a detachment of the airflow that flows over the rear wing and under the underbody in order to break the creation of downforce and, in doing so, to promote speed in a straight line.
3. BECAUSE THE RULES OF THE GAME HAVE EVOLVED
Even if all the teams have minimized its impact, the directive governing the phenomenon of pumping by setting a maximum rebound threshold may have forced some teams to modify their ground clearance, the hardness of their shock absorbers, etc. Let’s be honest: only Ferrari engineers know if the settings of the F1-75 had to be changed following the entry into force of the directive.
But the hypothesis is not absurd insofar as the difficulties of the Italian team began at Spa, where the directive began to apply. Agreed, this causal link could only be a coincidence, as the nature of the Belgian circuit minimized the qualities of the Ferrari anyway (its speed in the slow corners) and accentuated its weaknesses (a excess drag in fast sections) ‒ whether the guideline applies or not.
Let’s admit. But it must be recognized that the F1-75 should have shone on the Hungaröring or Zandvoort, circuits requiring a lot of downforce, like those where it excelled earlier in the season (Barcelona, Monaco). Why did the Cavallino encounter focusing problems on such tracks?
In front of the media, Mattia Binotto refuses to link the loss of competitiveness of her single-seater to the entry into force of the directive, but the coincidence cannot be ignored, if only as one explanatory factor among others.
The collapse of Charles Leclerc and Ferrari has a taste of deja vu. In 2017 and 2018 too, the Scuderia had a well-born machine, which had dominated the first Grands Prix, before declining due to misguided development and strategic errors.
Would Maranello be doomed to repeat its mistakes?