This article has been written by Mark Martin who works in the marketing department at MoneySupermarket.com and was part of the company’s car insurance television advertisement campaign featuring Nigel Mansell.
2012 was supposed to be the year when Ferrari returned to winning ways after a dismal 2011. Wind-tunnel correlation problems and senior management claims of a lack of ‘adventure’ in the design department resulted in a car that even in the hands of Fernando Alonso could only achieve a single victory.
Ferrari therefore set about making a change; sacking technical director Aldo Costa and replacing him with former McLaren man Pat Fry who oversaw the design of the all new F2012; a car which certainly cannot be described as being conservative. But will it be enough to put Ferrari back on top?
The new Ferrari F2012 is a completely new design with no carry over parts from its predecessor. It is the first car designed under the direction of Pat Fry who designed the McLaren MP4/23; that car which carried Lewis Hamilton to the 2008 F1 world championship.
One of the areas that the team has put the most effort into is the suspension. Last year, Ferrari was one of the only teams to persist with the push-rod rear suspension layout instead of the pull-rod which had become the in-fashion design due to the success of Red Bull. However, the new F2012 not only has a pull-rod rear suspension, but also a pull-road front suspension as well. The last time this was attempted was on the Minardi PS01 in 2001. Although this was not exactly a successful chassis, you can’t criticise Ferrari for a lack of trying given that pull-rod can potential offer a slight aerodynamic benefit.
Indeed, improving the aerodynamic performance of the car has been identified as being the key area that Ferrari must improve if it is to overhaul Adrian Newey and Red Bull. The team has conformed with the majority by opting for the very obvious droop in the nose of the car, but unlike Red Bull this does not have a slot in it which the World Champions are rumoured to be using as an F-duct style device to channel airflow to the front wing.
Ferrari has also put a lot of effort into solving the tyre warm up issues which often left them battling to make up lost ground in the races last year after under-par qualifying performances. Initial testing suggests that this problem has been addressed, but this may be at the expense of tyre wear with Ferrari having shown well on the at the start of their stints only for obvious handling issues to materialise after just a couple of laps.
The team has also been having trouble with their exhaust configuration; having experimented with many different layouts over the course of testing. New regulations banning the use of blown diffusers are supposed to have reduced the impact of the exhaust on performance, but the amount of effort that teams are putting into optimising their lay-out suggests that there are still significant advantages to be gained from them. Ferrari did trial a layout similar to that being used by McLaren and Red Bull, but it is believed that the team has been forced to revert to a more conservative design after having failed to get it to work on track.
Deductions made about each teams form based on their performances in winter testing are notoriously unreliable as you simply don’t know how much fuel cars are carrying, the tyres they are using or even their DRS usage. However, the body language of team personnel and communications coming out of teams is slightly more telling.
Commentators noted that the test team looked generally unhappy throughout the duration of the tests. The mood seems to lighten somewhat at the end of week two when Felipe Massa reported that the team had made a break through on car set up, but this didn’t seem to carry over to the final week. With just one day of testing remaining the team banned the media from interviewing its drivers and instead sent Pat Fry to answer questions, with the Briton confirming that he doubted they would be able to challenge for podium finishes at the start of the season.
This was confirmed in an analysis of winter testing performances in Autosport magazine. The publication analysed simulated race performances from Lotus and Ferrari which were carried out on the same day of the final Barcelona test. This revealed that Alonso would have finished the race over 4 seconds down on Grosjean’s Lotus; a car that is thought to be only the 4th fastest package at the moment.
Can Ferrari fight back?
Ferrari has some of the best facilities in F1 and undoubtedly one of the biggest budgets. This means that they are better placed than many to claw their way back to the front.
It is also worth bearing in mind that many F1 insiders believe that the teams are closer than ever at the moment; with under 1 second splitting the top 10 cars during the final test. Entering the season as the 5th fastest team is therefore not as much of a disaster as it once was. Ferrari is also certainly starting the year in better than McLaren did last year; a team which eventually finished 2nd in the championship race.
However, 2nd really isn’t good enough for Ferrari and more heads may yet roll if things don’t improve soon. Stefano Domenicali will be praying for a miracle.