A lot rides on Ferrari’s new SF16-H F1 challenger, but is it really a potential Mercedes beater? Matthew Somerfield has consulted with Giorgio Piola to find out…
Ferrari has been ringing the changes since the introduction of the 2014 regulations, with key figures spearheading its ascension to the role of title contender once more. The arrival of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel undoubtedly provided the team with the catalyst to re-energise the team, but the likes of Maurizio Arrivabene and Sergio Marchionne have clearly had an impact too.
Arrivabene's own passion is very apparent, with the Italian wearing his heart on his sleeve and hoping to drive the team to do what they haven't done in nine years – win a World Championship.
Meanwhile, the design team led by James Allison is now making headway, with infrastructure changes often taking a little time to impact on performance.
Fixing the problems
Ferrari's previous weaknesses are being addressed, and while they may not be able to fight for victory at every race, they will certainly be much closer than they have been in recent times.
The Scuderia has made significant strides with the power unit in 2015, narrowing the performance gap to Mercedes, much of which came from the rectification of issues they faced during 2014. However, the performance gained in combination with their long time partner Shell cannot be ignored either.
Having lost a step to fuel and lubricants rival Petronas in the lead up to the hybrid formula, Shell have worked tirelessly to recover their position with Ferrari. The information garnered from their supply in WEC, which uses very similar technologies, has likely given them more invaluable data to help close that gap too.
As we know, cars launched ahead of testing are often mere representations of what we can expect to be run during testing, let alone pound the asphalt in Melbourne.
However, there are areas of the car that can help us better understand the direction that the team is heading, and one shining example of this is the SF16-H's front suspension…
Pull-rod to push-rod suspension
Ferrari has persisted with pull-rod front suspension for four seasons, and has finally decided that the pros don't outweigh the cons.
From a driver’s perspective, push- and pull-rod suspension offer almost identical kinematic performance, with the exception of how the tyre deforms. Ferrari's switch to pull-rod came at a time when there was a desire, not only by Ferrari, to exert load on the front tyre, bringing it into the thermal operating window quicker and holding it in a prime position for longer.
As Pirelli's tyre construction and compounds have changed over the years, the need for pull-rod at the front has dissipated.
Without the mechanical requirement and the problem of excess weight that was needed to increase installation stiffness last year, the aerodynamic gains were no longer outweighing other considerations - and so the team has made the switch back to push-rod front suspension.
The other area of the SF16-H that immediately stands out is the shorter nose, with Ferrari the only team to see out the 2015 campaign with a longer appendage.
The front wing mounting pylons are mounted as far back on the neutral section as is possible, while being placed as far from the centreline as possible in order that the maximum amount of airflow can move under the nose.
The 'thumb'-style extension also sits relatively far back over the neutral section too, with the design team looking to work the neutral section differently when compared with the car’s predecessor.
The team has clearly worked hard to reduce the length of the central thumb section, as it moves along the car’s centreline, with the boat-tail quickly terminating as the underside of the nose slopes upward.
The front wing shown is the same specification used by the Scuderia at the end of the 2015 campaign and will undoubtedly be revised during the pre-season tests.
Under the nose we find what are believed to be just a generic set of turning vanes (highlighted in green), a carryover from the SF15-T, with a new set likely appearing during testing in order to maximise the new airflow provided by the shorter nose.
Although blocked off in the launch images, it appears that Ferrari will retain their blown front axle, with the airflow dispatched by the hollow axle (highlighted in blue), reducing the front wing’s role in reshaping the wake generated by the tyre.
S-duct in the pipeline?
A rather large vanity panel sits atop the SF16-H's chassis, which itself has had its shape amended, increasing the space between the reference plane and upper surface. The vanity panel could simply be used as access for setup adjustments, although I suspect we may see Ferrari introduce an 'S'-duct similar to my illustration during the pre-season tests.
Numerous changes to the power unit have been made alongside layout changes to ancillary components.
It's not yet fully clear as to the frequency of the coolers held within the sidepods, but it’s apparent that it has abandoned the innovative cantered and louvered solution from last year, in favour of a more conventional inclination.
Power unit cooling changes
The air-liquid-air cooler, which was sandwiched between the vee of the ICE in 2014/15, is thought to have been removed by the power unit department, with the space used to suitably implement variable inlet trumpets (inset).
Variable inlet trumpets allow a much more precise metering of the air/fuel ratio, which should help to improve efficiency and performance.
It remains to be seen whether Ferrari has retained a air-liquid-air cooler, with the most likely position for this being sandwiched between the front face of the powerunit and rear face of the fuel cell (as explained by Giorgio last week).
Thermal efficiency is one of the most important aspects of the hybrid formula: as such, decisions regarding how to cool components are paramount but also come with their own aerodynamic compromises.
The sidepod inlets appear to have been increased in size, allowing for additional cooling, based on the expectation of more grunt from the power unit.
The sidepod surfaces have also changed in shape, as the waist starts to pull inward toward the coke bottle, with an even more svelte line now visible. The hot air outlets have been raised to allow more airflow to make its way around into the coke-bottle region.
The coke-bottle shape is now narrower because of the repositioning of the MGU-K, which will sit alongside the engine block, rather than behind it.
This means that while Ferrari powered teams have been able to restart their car out on track in 2014/15, using the MGU-K, it appears that function may be lost and they'll only have the option of the manual starter from the pitlane like the other teams.
This repackaging of the MGU-K has had a knock-on effect, resulting in a redesign of the clutch, gearbox and crash structure assembly, affording the SF16-H a tighter coke bottle.
Airbox intake changed
The airbox shape has changed from the trapezoidal design used by Ferrari since 2012 (inset) to a more conventional inverted U (highlighted in yellow), which will have an impact on the delivery of air to the turbo's compressor.
Refined engine cover
Astride the top of the engine cover we find another winglet (highlighted in green), similar to the one added to the SF15-T last year.
For 2016, a notch has also been cut into the upper surface of the engine cover , in line with the winglet, maximising its performance. Its job is to break up and realign airflow that is made turbulent by the airbox, improving the efficiency of the rear wing that lies downstream.
Further down the spine of the engine cover, an outlet , which has now been deleted, used to sit above the turbine, allowing any excess heat to escape. These changes require an overall increase in the bulk of the engine cover's spine, as noted by the shorter shark fin.
The louvres that flank the cockpit  and expel hot air from the sidepods have also been tweaked, with many more escape points available to the team depending on the circuit demands.
For 2016 the engine manufacturers have been tasked with changing their approach to how the wastegates terminate.
In 2014/15 the wastegate(s) were required to join with the main exhaust outlet, whilst the FIA have changed the regulations for 2016 to increase the noise generated by the power units.
This year there will be at least one more tailpipe visible at the rear of each car, with the option of two wastegates seemingly the preferred option for Ferrari, with the launch images showing a tailpipe aside the main one, indicating there must be another on the other side.
The rear wing, like the front, is the same specification as the one with which the team closed out the 2015 season – I expect to see a new specification before long.
The SF16-H looks like a solid contender out of the box, with Ferrari addressing many of its previous weaknesses while trying to exploit more performance.
However, the proof is most certainly in the pudding – and we don't have to wait long to find out if the bold claims coming from Maranello are vindicated.