Dissecting the SF1000 - Ferrari's Worst Car Ever?
Taking a look at Ferrari's dog of a car and why it's so slow
The cracks started to show as early as 2018.
They had just been beaten by Mercedes and Hamilton at Monza and Singapore, two events they were firm favourites for, and Ferrari were now becoming the 2nd fastest car after being at the top for most of the season. Their updates weren't working; they even had to revert to old iterations of the floor because they just couldn't figure out what was going wrong.
Spa (the race just before Monza and Singapore) turned out to be the last race Vettel would win that season, which at the time would have seemed strange given they 'blitzed' Mercedes on the straights and comfortably won. Kimi would of course produce a fantastic performance at the race in Austin to beat Hamilton but it was never again like the early stages of that year.
A brief ray of hope appeared at pre-season when it looked like they were half a second faster than champions Mercedes. But then Mercedes went and did Mercedes things by delivering six 1-2s in a row, and well, that notion was dismissed.
Then later in the year, an aerodynamic upgrade on the nose cone unlocked the SF90's potential, so coupled with a (definitely illegal) engine, they bagged the most poles of the season with Charles Leclerc on 7. At Austin however, the same place Raikkonen had won a year earlier, Red Bull made an enquiry about engine regulations. It seemed they had spotted what Ferrari were doing and asked the FIA whether it was legal. They responded with a resounding no.
Next thing we know, Ferrari lose all their pace and haven't won a race since.
Things got even worse in pre-season testing. People soon realised they were in trouble, and some even dared to say Racing Point might be faster... but surely, the mighty Ferrari team who spend £400M/year could at least build the third fastest car...?
At the time of writing, Scuderia Ferrari are sixth in the constructors standings.
But what makes the SF1000 so slow exactly?
It starts at the start. The nose cone. You may have noticed more and more teams switching (like with Mercedes' low rake design), to Mercedes' thin nose design. There are pros and cons to each, involving aerodynamics, weight and packaging. Aerodynamically, the nose’s upsweep (the elevation relative to the normal - straight line) in general creates a low air pressure zone beneath it, causing the airflow to accelerate as it heads for the underfloor and, at the sides, towards the barge boards (works a bit like the ground effect). The faster the airflow, the greater the downforce.
The downforce you can create is generally a multiplication of the cars surface area and the speed of the air on it. The wide nose creates a greater surface area with which to accelerate the airflow. It can, in theory, accelerate more air. But it tends to be prone to stall, especially at low car speeds. When aerodynamic devices 'stall' they aren't getting enough air or in the right way which causes huge decreases in downforce, especially when it happens to the diffuser. Also, when the airflow falls below a critical speed, it can leave parts of the under-nose area unenergised in a dead zone – leading to loss of control of the flow, drag and an inefficient design. The wide nose in general tends to work better at higher speeds.
The narrow nose offers better control of the aerodynamics at low speed and generally therefore more consistent slow corner grip, hence Mercedes' low speed prowess. From the perspective of surface area x airflow speed, the narrow nose offers less surface area, but can more easily induce high airflow speed. As a further benefit, the narrower dimensions leave more space to fit in airflow turning vanes further forwards, so more easily turning the air where it needs to be directed which is so important to further control how much air goes to critical
To get a narrow nose through the crash test requires it to be heavier than the wider nose, with a denser structure, as the impact loads are spread over a much smaller area. This will mean less ballast (weights strategically placed by the teams to gain performance) is available to vary the weight distribution.
This means it's harder to package the suspension, making Mercedes' implementation of DAS even more impressive (they moved about the wishbone). Ferrari have a simpler suspension as they don't have to cram as much in a smaller space, so there's an advantage for them.
But having said that their cars ever since 2017 have basically been an evolution of that year's design, while Mercedes and Red Bull have had bigger revolutions.
And guess what, all the top 5 teams in the 2020 championship have slim noses.
The other 5? All wide.
Now we come to the most obvious part; that goddamn awful engine. As previously discussed the FIA took away their engine in some secret settlement, and since then it's performance has been similar to their 2017 iteration. Ferrari had mainly relied on their engine performance to get their results in 2018/2019, and specifically on whatever 'grey area' trick they were playing, so once that's taken away the other poor elements were exposed.
Surprisingly if you compare the onboards from the 2019 Belgian pole lap from Leclerc and his 2020 lap time, the second sector, a test for the car's chassis and aerodynamic package, they are near-identical. This proves just how heavily dependent the SF90 was on the 'jet mode' engine.
As a whole, I must say the car is quite conservative. If you look at the nose (like I said before), it's been pretty much the same since the aerodynamic rule change in 2017. The suspension isn't as radicalised as Mercedes' of Red Bull's, it doesn't have the small winglets that sit on the top of the car before the halo which seem to work so well for Renault, Racing Point, Alfa, Mercedes, or just the many slots, cuts, vanes and flick ups that are so commonplace on F1 cars nowadays.
Back when the engine was incredibly powerful and driving Mercedes mad, the Brackley outfit were pushing crazy hours trying to figure out how to gain those crucial hp's on the straights. This is probably why their car now is so much more dominant: Ferrari pushed Mercedes into building a better car. (Mercedes, you're welcome)
The SF1000 doesn't have balance issues or inconsistencies, but it just lacks pace. Something much more worrying and a lot harder to fix than just an inefficient design.
Now I've spent most of the article blabbering on about the car, but the road back doesn't just consist of finding lap time. La Scuderia itself has problems. The fact most of the team is Italian creates a high-pressure, high-blame culture which just isn't healthy for an F1 team. Mercedes (my reference point for the entirety of this piece) never point fingers, something which works extremely well and something Ferrari should consider adopting. Taking the pressure of the whole of Italy supporting you (admittedly not straightforward) from the team would loosen the atmosphere.
A powerhouse lineup like the one they had in the early 00's with Schumacher, Todt and Brawn is essential for domination, so they need to find a similar sort of squad to lead a title challenging Scuderia. Mercedes had a similar set of intelligent engineers and leaders a few years ago; Paddy Lowe, Toto Wolff, Aldo Costa, James Alisson, Andy Cowell, Peter Bonnington, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were all there. Now some of those names are gone, but the team as a whole continues to excel.
A few shuffles of personnel at Ferrari would actually make a huge difference; Binotto was also there during the early 2000s dominance, but in a technical role instead. Many I think would agree he's not a natural leader, although he is fairly calm, so I believe setting him back as the technical director to focus solely on the car would benefit them. Also, having someone with so much invaluable experience as Jok Clear and leaving him merely as a race engineer (Charles' engineer), is a huge waste. I'd move him to the pitwall to try and fix the shambles of their strategy, and reinstall some sense to their dynamic decisions.
And finally, I'd like to end on a positive note.
Ferrari are the biggest, most historic and prestigious team in F1. They've also had periods like this before, where they were down in the midfield with no apparent way out. But after each lull, they always came back and won, sometimes for years on end.
So for all the tifosi out there: keep supporting, keep going, because your time will come.
All those memes? One day you'll make them about Mercedes ;)
But having said that, I couldn't ignore this absolute gold... sorry!