Why Ferrari has stayed in front despite its no F1 upgrades approach

The Ferrari F1-75 looked fast from the first day of 2022 Formula 1 testing at Barcelona in February, and that pace has remained through the first three race weekends.

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Indeed, in Australia the car had a clear edge on the Red Bull RB18, after the two frontrunning machines proved to be evenly matched in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Ferrari's season so far is that, in contrast to its main rivals, the team has done very little to the car since that first test, and there has been no package of upgrades.

There are several aspects to the Ferrari strategy. Firstly, the car was quick from the off and had no obvious vices. Like others, it suffers from porpoising, but the team seems to have found a way to live with it, without compromising performance as much as some rivals have been obliged to.

Crucially, by not changing the package every week, the team has been able to take a deep dive into fully understanding the car, allowing the engineers to start each race weekend with a good base set-up.

That in turn has the added bonus of allowing the drivers to fully come to terms with the car and know what it requires from them, although it's taken Carlos Sainz a little longer to adapt than Charles Leclerc.

The bigger picture is that by not having to throw new parts on at short notice in order to find performance, Ferrari has been able to pace itself in terms of R&D. The team can focus on honing new items that it knows will work when they come to the track, rather than fast-track through stuff that hasn't been fully proven as a fire-fighting exercise.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

In an era where the budget cap puts a limit on what how much you can do over the course of a full season, that's a crucial advantage.

"Luckily the car is good since the beginning," says chassis operations manager Claudio Albertini. "So it's something that is good news for us, because then we can focus on good development.

"With these new regulations it's a different approach compared to the past, because with the budget cap, actually we have to be very careful, because every development that is not working, is also a waste of money, in addition to not giving performance to the car.

"The conditions are different from the past. We have to work in a different way. But for sure in our line there are future developments. Also, because this philosophy of car is very new there are many things that we are still investigating, and want to prove."

In essence, Ferrari has been able to hold back on new parts because the car was good from the off, with sufficient pace to win races.

"Luckily we met the expectations," says Albertini. "So in a way you see that the car has a potential. And so as I said, we could spot since the beginning of the project the parts of the car that were more performing, and focus on them.

"We now understand that our first idea was good, because the important parts are in good shape, and we are going in that direction. So we are still following the base plan that we had since last year."

Ferrari did bring a different floor to Melbourne, but as was planned it was run by Leclerc only on Friday, before he reverted to the normal spec for the rest of the weekend.

It was purely a data gathering exercise that will feed into more permanent changes later in the season, and was a good example of the team making efficient use of a Friday practice session.

"We had a packer in the diffuser," says Albertini. "Actually, it's a part that changed the shape of the floor. It was a test item. We knew since the beginning that it would not be in the car for the qualifying and race. And it's normal nowadays, with less real testing of the car, that you use Friday for this development.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

"It was something related, obviously, to the aerodynamics of the car. And we aim to understand better the airflow, especially on the floor, and the bottom part of the car.

"These special components have the aim of gathering information. So actually, we run that component, we have sensors in the car, we do all the measurements, then we bring all the information at home.

"And then they can correlate with our calculations, with wind tunnel data. It's a way we can match the real car and the calculated car, and we have a better picture. For the later development in season of the car, this is the first step.

"It was not something that was supposed to be better or worse. It was something useful for us to have a different amount of data to consider at home.

"The floor is obviously the most important part of the car. And this philosophy of car is very new. So we are still understanding new things. Time is going, and so we are focusing on different parts of the floor, trying to improve it overall."

Running that kind of test before going ahead and manufacturing sufficient sets of new floors to get the team through a race weekend is another example of how restricted funds are having an effect on how and when teams introduce updates.

"For sure, as I said, the budget cap has an impact on how we operate this season," says Albertini. "It is extremely important when there is a development that the new component is good, otherwise there is a waste of money and a waste of time.

"Understanding at the beginning led us to a process of improvement rather than bringing new parts and having the old ones not used anymore. So not useful, also from the budget cap perspective.

"Sometimes it's a bit of a bet. You bring the part, and if you bring earlier and it's okay, then you are more relaxed, and you do development. But if you bet and you arrive to the second test with the new component, but then it's not working, it is even worse."

While aerodynamic parts are obviously the main development focus with the new cars like all teams, Ferrari is also pursuing a weight-saving programme.

"At the moment it is in parallel," says Albertini. "Because weight is very important, because these cars are heavier. For sure, weight reduction is a big focus on our development.

"We have aero development, mechanical development, weight development, so we are going in parallel with different programmes, and we pick up where we can see there is the most need. It's something that goes together at the moment."

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Saving weight costs money, but as Albertini notes, so does everything else.

"Even a light part like the floor in a way is extremely expensive. For sure [to have a] light car means we have to rebuild the metallic parts, doing it in different materials. So in a way it's a big cost. But I can tell you that also aero development, even if the part is not weight-related, is very, very expensive!"

As noted a stable car package helps the drivers to get the maximum out of it each weekend, as they become more familiar with its quirks. Is it more a question of the drivers adapting, or the set-up being honed to suit their styles?

"As usual it's a bit of both sides," says Albertini. "This car was new for the drivers, and it was new for us. We had to understand a bit, because they had to change the way in which they have to drive, because this car has such an aerodynamic load and a different mechanical configuration compared to last year.

"It has to be driven differently. So as a team, we have to understand what is the best way for the driver's skill? And the driver in a way has to adapt. It's a bit of both again, and we have to meet together."

The new tyres are a key element that team and drivers have had to understand, and again a stable package has helped that process.

Ferrari has found that typically two preparation laps on the soft tyre are optimal for qualifying, for example.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"It's very circuit dependent I think," says Albertini. "It's a bit of a match, tyre and asphalt and ambient conditions. For sure, it is part also of the tests that we do on Friday. It's not that you arrive and you know since the beginning maybe we need the prep lap, maybe not.

"It's something that also you have to test. And also you see some teams are doing this, and some not."

With Maranello just down the road and an obvious desire to please the home crowd, Ferrari could be tempted to bring a major update package to the Emilia Romagna GP.

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However, Imola is a sprint weekend, and with just one session before Friday qualifying, it makes no sense to disrupt the winning package.

"I think it will be a difficult weekend in the respect of bringing updates and try to evaluate them on the Friday practice," team boss Mattia Binotto noted in Australia.

"Because you need obviously to focus yourself on the quali of the afternoon. If we will look at ourselves, there will not be much in Imola because again, we believe it will not be the right place.

"We try to mitigate the let me say the issues we got still so far, I'm thinking of the porpoising and the bouncing that has affected our performance over the weekend. So we again try to work on that specific point.

"But for the upgrades and more, let me say significant ones, it will be for later on in the season."

The big question now is how much development potential can be found in the F1-75 compared to the RB18? We'll only know the answer as the weeks and months unfold.

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