Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Tech analysis: Solving the mystery of Ferrari's F1 resurgence

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The SF70H is a fascinating design, with many details that are worth exposing given the team's recent ascension to the front of the pack.

Most of its performance comes from having a naturally-planted car, which seems to produce speed straight out the box at every circuit, while taking the maximum from the tyres.

The latter point is something that many of the other teams, including Ferrari's closest rival Mercedes, are yet to exploit.

This was again evident in Monaco, when the Silver Arrows were forced to do an extra preparation lap during qualifying, whereas both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were able to attack straight away, their tyres arriving at the operating window much sooner.

The shorter, more nimble Ferrari is seemingly able to generate the necessary heat in the front tyres to match what is generated at the rear.

Once again, we gravitate toward the conversation of wheelbase, weight distribution, rake, and aerodynamic design philosophy, with the top three teams offering considerably different approaches.

All of these characteristics tie into the conundrum that is tyre performance, be it over one lap or a race stint, and is something that will change from circuit to circuit.

It’s a situation that concerns the three-time world champion over at Mercedes, with Toto Wolff joking that his team's woes in Monaco were an “Italian mystery”.

All of the teams get the same tyres, so it stands to reason that Ferrari has simply made a better job of understanding them and interpreting the 2017 regulations.

After all, last year it wasn't just Ferrari but Mercedes and Red Bull too that charged themselves with the responsibility of assisting the Italian manufacturer on the lead-up to this year's significant rule changes, supplying their 2015 cars modified to stringent standards in order to simulate the increased levels of downforce that would be achieved.

Tyre test mileage (km)

Ferrari (4240) Red Bull (4201) Mercedes (3507)
Vettel (2228) Gasly (2494) Wehrlein (3248)
Raikkonen (1054) Buemi (1190) Rosberg (209)
Gutierrez (480) Verstappen (517) Hamilton (50)
Fuoco (478) Ricciardo (200)  

A total of 96 different prototype tyres were tested during the extensive programme that saw the drivers put both the dry and wet-weather 2017 development tyres through their paces at Fiorano, Mugello, Barcelona, Paul Ricard and Yas Marina.

Of the three teams, Mercedes racked up the least mileage - most of its kilometres going to now-Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein - which could be earmarked as one of the reasons why we find the Silver Arrows struggling so much when it comes to nuances of tyre temperature management.

On Ferrari's end, Raikkonen did more running than Hamilton, Ricciardo and Verstappen combined, while Vettel did more than twice that.

Pirelli had requested that teams use race drivers at the tests, in order that a solid reference could be drawn from not only the data gathered but also the feedback given by the drivers but only the Scuderia truly committed to that.

To further enforce this commitment, Vettel took time to visit Pirelli on several occasions, just as he did when the tyre supplier first entered the sport in 2011, as the four-time world champion looked to offer more insight and feedback to the tyre manufacturer.

Yes, the testing was done blind and the data accrued was shared among all of the competitors but it would be foolhardy to suggest that those who supplied the mule cars and the drivers who did the testing did not glean a little more, or steer the development direction.

It could even be argued that the effort made by each of the three constructors in designing their mule cars will have provided different results, too.

Pre-season skirmish

On top of this, we also have to consider the technical directive issued by Charlie Whiting just before pre-season testing commenced, which came at a point when the designs of this year's chassis were already fully defined.

It was a perhaps a shrewd move by Ferrari - waiting until the right moment to request clarification from Whiting, with its rivals committed to the concept going forward.

As such the clarification is thought to have hit Mercedes and Red Bull hardest, as both had the most mature versions of these ‘trick suspension systems’, with Mercedes pressing on with things learned while developing FRIC, which was subsequently banned too.

The systems, which revolved around the use of a hydraulic ‘heave’ element and more accurately controlled the vertical displacement of the chassis, allowed for a more aggressive aerodynamic philosophy to be followed.

Red Bull suggested that its version was too heavy and abandoned it before the clarification but Mercedes, who had the most advanced system, will likely have continued working on it right up to the issuing of technical directive.

This surely placed both teams on the back foot when compared with Ferrari, who’d likely designed its car either with a much less simpler version or without it entirely.

Dialing in

Ferrari has made some limited changes to its set-up heading into 2017, offering prominence to two rotary switches that had previously been relegated to the cockpit control panel.

 

The GRIP and multi-function rotaries that were previously housed in the left-hand cockpit panel now find themselves front and centre on the steering wheel, where they resided back in 2013 - another season where tyre performance was a major focus.

Now, it should be noted these rotaries have been at the drivers' disposal, in one position or another, dating back to at least 2008.

What it is an indicative though is their renewed importance in the eyes of the drivers and Ferrari engineers, with the steering wheel serving as prime real estate and reserved for the most significant operations that the driver must perform.

Placing the rotaries on the steering wheel gives the drivers easier access and line of sight rather than if the rotaries were placed on the cockpit panel, obfuscated by the steering wheel.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Teams Ferrari
Article type Analysis
Topic Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis