Why Ferrari can afford to bide its time in development war – MPH


Mark Hughes explains how Ferrari's early development work is paying dividends, whilst Red Bull is having to take risks to keep up


Ferrari has managed to keep Red Bull at arms length so far, thanks to the wide development window its F1-75 affords

TPN/Getty Images

It’s interesting to note the different approaches of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes to upgrades ahead of the Imola weekend and the logic behind them in this cost cap era.

That logic is being driven by Ferrari’s dominance of the early part of the season with a car essentially unchanged since it first appeared. There are new parts being readied but a decision was taken not to introduce them in this sprint weekend with just one practice session before qualifying. That’s the sort of calm, practical decision of a team comfortable with its programme and with a nice lead in the championship. The F1-75 has proven to be a very sweetly balanced machine, with an apparently wide set-up window afforded by its aero concept and a potent power unit which just adds to that flexibility. It works on slow corners and fast, it looks after its tyres well and has so far been very reliable. It bears all the hallmarks of a car which has been a very long time in the making from a team which has been in a better position to devote resource to it than either Mercedes or Red Bull.

“Ferrari has such a complex package that it is easy to set up,” says Red Bull’s Helmut Marko. “With us, everything has to be perfect for us to deal with that. That’s exactly why we take this risk now of bringing new parts with just one practice session available. We want to fully attack and take our chances instead of just waiting. Ferrari and Leclerc are just too strong for that.”

Related article

This race will see the first of a raft of new components designed to bring the RB18’s weight down, lighter parts including the brake calipers. The extra 10kg over the Ferrari which the Red Bull has been carrying is theoretically worth around 0.3sec. Not all of that will be shaved away this weekend but the target is to have it on weight parity by Barcelona in two races time. This approach bears the hallmark of a team running hard to get the best from a package more hurried in its preparation, with a little less tunnel/CFD time, which has had to wait a little later before the factory’s full resource was unleashed on its design and development because of last year’s title battle.

Similar comments apply to Red Bull’s ’21 title rival Mercedes, another team with an overweight car. Unlike Red Bull though, there is no big upgrade for this weekend, give or take an extra bodywork strake. The team is still working on fully understanding the root cause of why its porpoising is initiated at such relatively low speed, forcing the car to be run with a very tame ride height which hurts both downforce and drag. Until this is fully understood, it is felt there is no point in making the usual aero development parts, no point in adding downforce in the conventional way – as it may very well turn out to be unusable and which will cost money better devoted to researching the fundamental problem.

It’s a fascinating little snapshot of where they are each at in this early stage of solving the simultaneous puzzle of F1’s new technical and cost regulation.