Ferrari's F1 improvement bodes well for 2022: Mark Hughes

"There was nothing half-hearted about the way Ferrari attacked last year's aerodynamic issue"

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Looking at the half-season to date as Formula 1 takes its summer break, Ferrari is the most improved team from last year – albeit from a base of 2020 being its worst for 40 years as it suffered from the blow of technical directives which severely curtailed its horsepower.

But the rapidity of its recovery, despite being hampered by the limited scope of permitted car changes between last year to this, holds real promise for the 2022 re-set.

Team boss Mattia Binotto recently summarised 2021 progress. “In the first 11 races we have achieved 163 points. It was 80 points at the same stage last season… That 83-point increase is the most of the entire grid. If we look at pure performance in qualifying, last year on average we were 1.4sec off pole. Today we are 0.7sec off. Still a distance, we are fully aware of that, but good improvement.

“Pitstops. I always consider a good pitstop below 3sec. That may sound a high number but in strategy it’s more important to be consistent, not only fast. Because what is destroying a race is sometimes a problem and you are stopped for 4.5sec or 5sec or 6sec. Eighty-four per cent of our stops this year have been below 3sec. Last year 48%. Last year we were eighth in the pitstops; today we are P2.”

The power deficit to Mercedes last year, under new late-notice technical directives regarding fuel flow, was in the order of 65bhp. A combustion chamber more optimised around the new interpretation has reduced that to more like 25bhp this year. That and very good lowspeed handling traits have given Charles Leclerc a car good enough for him to score a brace of pole positions and for Ferrari to be in a longrunning battle with McLaren for third in the Constructors’ Championship.

But there’s more to come – in the remainder of this season – from the power unit. The regulations allow one change to each of the six major elements (internal combustion engine, turbo, ERS-h, ERS-k, battery and control electronics) from last year to this. But there was no stipulation about them having to all be introduced together and Binotto has revealed that on the 2021 engines used to date, some of those elements are still to 2020-spec and that the subsequent ones will be to a higher spec, which he expects will bring significant performance gains.

Last year’s car didn’t just suffer a bigger power deficit than the current one but was aerodynamically flawed too, with a particularly intractable rear end stability limitation. There was nothing half-hearted about the way Ferrari attacked that problem despite this being the final year of these technical regulations – but part of that solution will definitely feed into the 2022 car.

It made a new gearbox casing allowing it to totally reconfigure the rear suspension in a way that replicated what Mercedes had done last year in sweeping back the wishbones to create more space around the diffuser for the aerodynamicists to exploit. Within the pandemicinspired limitation on changes it was ingenious in itself, but in tilting the gearbox upward and thereby raising the differential height it also created yet more volume in that area.

“The budget cap puts a lot more focus on the early phase of the car”

The 2022-spec cars will feature two big venturi channels, one each side, running from the front of the floor to the back, converging in the centre, so that a greater proportion of the car’s total downforce is generated by the underbody, so as to produce a cleaner wake. With this layout, it will be even more advantageous to raise the diff height, despite the increase in centre of gravity height it brings.

David Sanchez is chief engineer of performance and the man largely responsible, when he was chief of aero, for the highly influential 2017 Ferrari with several new aero features now almost universal. He’s a creative force and his mantra is usable downforce, with an aero map that makes the driver comfortable enough to extract performance from himself.

“You need downforce, that’s obvious,” he says, “and at the moment with these regulations you can create a lot of downforce, but you need to make sure the car can sustain it. The aero is getting ever-more complex so it’s more prone to break down. Essentially the philosophy is make sure the downforce is very consistent, gives confidence to the driver that it’s not going to bite in any way – and then we should have a pretty solid platform.

“For next year aerodynamically the cars are dramatically different from current ones but fundamentally we are looking for similar things – but achieving those in a different way. Everything we learned and developed in the last few years is still very valid.

“You always want more. The budget cap is making us think where you really want to put the priority. A good thing is we’ve been developing in the last few years the necessary tools to do this and so I think we’re in a good place. You have to be pragmatic in how you use resource, you need to be focused on priorities. Without the cap anything which makes the car faster, you take. Now with the cap you need to think about, with the resource you have, what is the top priority for improvement, what will give the biggest return. It also puts a lot more focus on the early phase of the car because next year if you put on a track a car which has a large weakness it’s going to be a pretty uphill battle to recover.”

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Since he began covering grand prix racing in 2000, Mark Hughes has forged a reputation as the finest Formula 1 analyst of his generation
Follow Mark on Twitter @SportmphMark.