Ferrari will be aiming to repeat the performance increase it found over the winter of last year with the release of its new car the SF71H, as it's only by outpacing Mercedes that Ferrari can win the championships this year.
Resplendent in a near complete coating of scarlet paint, the new car appears to be a step forwards in every area. Last year Ferrari missed out on the championships, despite the car’s potential being easier to obtain at most tracks than Mercedes found with theirs. But in the final analysis, the SF70H lacked speed and reliability compared to the Merc.
This year it will also have Red Bull to contend with, so every facet of the car’s design needs to be reviewed and improved. What we’ve ended up with is a new Ferrari showing innovation in every area.
Unlike most other teams, Ferrari have their launch spec car with a new front wing and nose design. Counter intuitively front wings are getting less about front downforce and more about airflow control. So, the key change to the Ferrari front wing is the added number of elements and complexity applied to the inner span. These inner wing tips create a powerful spiraling vortex, that winds back through the front suspension and then curves out behind the front tyre.
The effect of this is to push the front tyre turbulence away from the rear bodywork, helping the rear wing and diffuser to run in clean air and be more efficient at their job of creating downforce for the corners. In the middle, the front wing is mounted by two pylons hanging from beneath the nose tip, these have taken a cue from McLaren and their longer shape is broken up by slots that also serve to direct airflow back along the car.
Behind this is the front suspension, one of the better traits of Ferrari in recent seasons has been its tyre management. Ferrari choose to compromise the front suspension set up less for aerodynamic gain and focus more on the suspension’s real job of managing the tyre contact patches. So, despite the new car’s aero complexity, the suspension is not an extreme set up as seen on the Mercedes and Red Bull.
Ferrari have perhaps held the ace card when it comes to sidepod design, their high-top design was unique last year and so successful that most other teams (Mercedes excluded) have followed its general design this year.
Having the high inlet has some cooling benefits, but the key advantage is having a far larger scalloped surface below the inlet, known as the undercut.
Ferrari’s sidepod already allowed a larger undercut last year, with the high wide inlet, but this year’s sidepod front goes even further with a tiny inlet facing forwards and the rest of the shape given over to directing airflow around the flanks of the car.
This flow helps make the diffuser work harder, providing a lot more downforce for little drag, so the car is good in the corners and fast on the straights. The rest of the bodywork around the inlet is just there to direct airflow over the rest of the sidepod and engine cover.
While others have copied Ferrari’s sidepod concept, only Ferrari have really worked the upper inlet in such a clever way. Typically, airflow over the middle of the car is rising up from the front wing.
Ferrari turn this airflow downwards, so much so that the air is travelling downwards as it hits the front of the sidepod. With this downward airflow, Ferrari are able to put an inlet on the top surface of the sidepod, further reducing the size of the forward-facing inlet. This set up requires lots of bodywork upstream of the sidepod to be pointing downwards, creating lift rather than downforce. At first this may seem the opposite of what a grip-hungry racecar needs, but the compromise here is paid off by better downforce overall from the better airflow off the sidepods.
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We now move onto the rearview mirrors, because on the Ferrari they have an unusual design and surprising secondary function. Typically, teams try to make the mirrors as neutral as possible, to prevent their turbulence affecting the bodywork behind them and sometimes using them for some slight airflow improvement with the clever use of their mounting stalks.
Ferrari have gone step further, the pods housing the mirrors have black painted fronts. This black paint hides an inlet around an internal wing profile, but rather than the wing being there for a sneaky bit of downforce, the wing points down creating lift!
As mentioned above, sometimes teams want bodywork to turn the airflow down for other benefits downstream and this is what the new mirrors do.
When viewed from above, it’s clear the mirrors are perfectly aligned with the upper sidepod inlet. The downwash the mirrors internal wing creates pushes more airflow into the sidepods for better cooling. Nothing like this has ever been seen before, there are no rules to prevent this, so Ferrari have a clever trick to make their sidepods work even better, using what are very literally wing mirrors!
ROLL HOOP & HALO
With the mandatory addition of the Halo cockpit protection for 2018, Ferrari’s is typical of what most teams will do with theirs. The actual Halo is a titanium tube structure inside, but the team can fit bodywork around it, largely to offset the negative effect it has on the airflow towards the driver and roll hoop.
Ferrari have streamlining wrapped around the titanium tube and also a boomerang-like winglet to divert air down towards the roll hoop inlet. The inlet itself is very different for Ferrari, the snorkel-like shape being larger and split into different sections to duct air to the hybrid-system radiators and the engine’s airbox. The other teams will reveal their Halo bodywork in testing and most will converge on just this sort of solution.
ENGINE COVER AND REAR WINGS
From the clever sidepod front rearward, the Ferrari is largely conventional in aero design with a reasonably slim shape and 2018 spec shark fin. Already we have seen Williams, Haas and to an extent Mercedes exploit a loophole in the rules that still allows a low T-wing to be fitted to the rear of the engine cover. Ferrari have also used this area with a wide aerofoil helping direct flow through the rear wing.
Less has been said about the engine at the car’s launch, Ferrari was a close match for the Mercedes last year. But wasn’t able to run the high-power engine modes that boosted the Mercedes drivers pace in the final qualifying session.
But equally Ferrari hadn’t exploited oil burning to the extent Mercedes were able to in 2017. With this latter combustion trick outlawed, Ferrari may have slightly less of a gap to catch up on, but they will be lucky if their Power Unit is able to beat Mercedes on reliability.
Although the reliability issues with the intercooler and spark plug that lost them so many points mid-season should be rectified, with a greater internal emphasis on quality assurance on parts brought into the factory from third parties.
Conversely Ferrari should be able to retain an advantage over their Renault-powered competitors such as Red bull, who have a much larger performance and reliability gap to both Ferrari and Mercedes.
If F1 were a design competition, Ferrari would be getting a lot of points from the car seen today. But every one of these ideas needs to work and work with all the other good ideas.
Mercedes will be pushing ahead from their position of dominance on chassis and powertrain, and Ferrari still have a gap to bridge and keep up the pressure throughout the all of the races if that elusive championship is to go Sergio Marchionne’s way.