Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
Charles Leclerc's continued improved form for Ferrari shows the Italian team has turned the corner in Formula 1.
And while an ongoing package of updates may never have been expected to deliver a dramatic change in form, the small steps it has brought have perhaps been enough to transform the picture in the midfield.
Ferrari has certainly shown itself willing to keep pushing hard and it gave itself plenty to do over the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend.
It not only had to set aside time to focus on parts it brought to the track to study the effects of the 2021 regulations, but it also had new updates that would hopefully deliver a lap time improvement this season.
Weighing these demands against one another at a new track, for which it had limited data, would be tricky. Especially as it still needed to leave enough time to hone its setup and understand the tyres, a challenge it seemed to balance quite well given Leclerc's strong weekend.
Learning from the past
Ferrari SF1000 floor comparison
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
Ferrari turned back the clock a bit this weekend. While many of the updates it has introduced over the last few races have featured new or ideas borrowed from others, the floor raced at Portimao had a returning feature - three diagonally placed fins on top of the floor slots ahead of the rear tyre.
Ferrari began to use this aerodynamic feature in 2019 (see right inset) and, although it abandoned the concept for 2020, it has subsequently found its way onto other cars up and down the grid, including the Mercedes and Red Bull.
For this year, Ferrari had instead focused their development on the fully enclosed holes in the floor, having introduced a new floor in Austria that featured more diagonal perforations, rather than the long ones used previously (see below).
It was hoped that in combination with the raised horizontal flap (see inset, upper left) that the fins wouldn't be required.
As we can see though (bottom right), the horizontal flap has now given way for the reintroduction of the three fin arrangement, with Leclerc's car fitted with a fully prepared version in carbon fibre, whilst Sebastian Vettel's floor had rapidly prototyped fins stitched into it.
Living in the present
The interesting thing about 2020 is that, while we have the same tyres as last season, the teams are still finding ways in which to get more performance from them.
This often leads to teams having to balance conflicting demands. They need to juggle the cooling demands of the brakes, improvements that can come from using the brake ducts as an aerodynamic tool, but also keeping in mind how they manage the transfer of heat into the wheel rim, which in-turn has an effect on the tyre's bulk temperature.
For the Portuguese GP, Ferrari had a very different arrangement at the front of the car (left, above) with a more enclosed drum / cake tin.
The emphasis on the redesign appears to be aerodynamic. But, as a consequence , it will also have an impact on how the brakes are cooled and how the heat generated is transmitted into the wheel rim.
The old design (right) featured an exposed crossover that allowed the airflow captured by the inlet to exist in the larger void created by the drum, whilst passing some of the heat generated under braking into the wheel rim. However, it also meant that the airflow was affected by the rotation of the wheel too.
The new solution fully encloses that region of the brake drum and focuses the airflow that's ejected out of the wheel face by means of a smaller outlet. This creates a more focused aerodynamic effect that can disrupt the turbulence created by the entire assembly - wheel and tyre.
It also means that the thermal relationship is altered too, as the heat generated under braking will radiate through the assembly differently.
With this in mind, teardrop shaped outlets have been included, allowing some of that heat passage to escape into the void between the drum and wheel rim.
One eye on the future
Ferrari SF1000 floor detail with 2021 rules
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
Ferrari know only too well that it battle to return to the front of the pack is not one that can be won immediately. So, rather than rush through developments that might need further conceptual changes down the line, it has embarked on a more measured approach, introducing parts that will likely have a benefit on the car going into next season too.
After all, with the 2021 regulation changes costing teams around 10% in downforce, anyone able to mitigate even some of that will have an advantage over their rivals.
With this in mind, Ferrari had a package of parts available in Portugal with which it wanted to collect data on. These parts complied with the 2021 regulations and featured a floor with the diagonal cut-out ahead of the rear tyres, narrower brake duct fins and shorter diffuser strakes.
Taking the time to assess these parts under real world conditions not only allows the drivers to offer feedback in terms of the difference in performance, but also provides the team with invaluable data that can be used to improve correlation with their simulation tools.
Interestingly, Ferrari's floor featured a scroll section just ahead of the rear tyre in order to roll up the airflow and disrupt the turbulence created by the tyre. This is a role usually undertaken by the slots in the region ahead of the tyre that will no longer be possible when the new rules come into force.
Ferrari SF1000 diffuser comparison
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
Meanwhile, the diffuser used during this test had the shorter strakes for 2021, which must be more than 50mm above the reference plane. As a consequence, Ferrari installed three vertical strakes, rather than the two usually found mounted within the diffuser.
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