F150th Italia: The car to put Ferrari back on top?

Posted on 11 February, 2011

For a team which won seven out of the ten constructor’s championships in the opening decade of the new millennium, the past two seasons have been a bit of a let down for Ferrari. The Italian team’s engineers simply didn’t exploit the new regulations introduced in 2009 to their full potential, which has resulted in them spending the two seasons playing catch up.
However, with the recruitment of McLaren designer Pat Fry and a brand new design equipped with one of F1’s best KERS devices, has the prancing horse finally caught the raging bull?

The Aerodynamics
Red Bull was far in a way the leaders in terms of aerodynamics in 2010 thanks to the efforts of the legendary designer Adrian Newey. It is clear to see that the new F150th Italia has taken some style tips from their Austrian rivals, with the nose of the new car both higher and wider than its predecessor.
However, Ferrari has made the new car substantially higher. The reason for this is unclear, as traditionally a lower position for the driver brings the advantage of a lower centre of gravity. This has been a big area of development for McLaren over the winter, but it is unlikely that Ferrari would have made this call unless it felt it would give them some type of advantage. It could possibly relate to the adoption of Pirelli tyres, and might possibly be an attempt to reduce tyre wear which experts are expecting to play a big part in the season.
Additionally, Red Bull and McLaren have both opted for a push-rod rear suspension which despite requiring some compromises in terms of mechanical performance, clears up airflow to the rear wing which is becoming an increasing area of differentiation. McLaren’s side-pods have even been designed to aid this, featuring a tunnel through which the air will be channelled to the rear wing. Ferrari has maintained that it has done the right thing in sticking with the pull-rod suspension, but many critics have claimed that Ferrari simply hasn’t done enough in this area to enable them to jump the mighty bull or even keep McLaren at bay. It should be noted that Ferrari engineers have maintained that the current aerodynamic configuration is simply an interim package prior to the introduction of new components at the season opening grand prix; but at the moment Ferrari looks like it is standing still compared to its rivals in terms of aerodynamic developments.

The Exhaust
One of the big areas of development last year was the blown diffuser. This ingenious system from Red Bull channelled exhaust gases into the rear diffuser in order to provide additional down force. Renault has taken this one step further in 2011, by placing the exhaust outlets at the front of the side-pods and channelling the exhaust gases all the way along the bottom of the car. This has the potential of creating additional down force along the bottom of the car rather than just through the diffuser.
Ferrari has come up with a completely different, but equally inspired solution. Brawn’s 2009 championship victory relied almost entirely on their controversial double diffuser design. This basically used a whole in the diffuser to channel air through, thus creating a diffuser with over double the down force of a conventional layout. This has been banned for 2011, but Ferrari is alleged to be using the starter motor hole in the diffuser as a conduit through which to pass exhaust gases, thus creating a similar (but less substantial) effect. This is technical legal (because it is not technically channelling air through it) and could give Ferrari a big advantage. However, it is unclear whether it will be more effective than the Renault solution and don’t expect the other teams to standing still with developments in this area either.

The Engine and KERS
The team will carry the same basic engine that they have used since 2006, carrying them to two constructor’s titles and countless victories. There is therefore nothing wrong with the performance of the engine, which is one of the most powerful and lightest in the sport. However, there are question marks over its reliability with the team being very marginal in terms of their engine allocation usage last year, which resulted in Alonso doing the final five races with the same engine. This can’t have helped his championship challenge, and the fact that there is an additional race on the calendar in 2011 could prove to be a push too far for them. However, don’t forget that Red Bull’s Renault engines have proved to be even more troublesome over the past couple of years.
One advantage Ferrari does have over Red Bull is their KERS device. This is the same basic design they used in 2009, when they became one of only two teams (McLaren being the other) to win using such a system. This gives them a big advantage over Red Bull who has only ever tested a KERS device in private sessions, while Ferrari has raced for a whole season with the device which has given them all the time they needed to iron out problems and extract the systems full potential. The development of these energy recovery systems are becoming increasingly important to car manufacturers involved in the sport, due to the fact that fuel efficiency is becoming a very important selling point to motorists. This was confirmed by research by Money Super Market, which revealed that 62% of motorists have already changed their driving styles as a result of fuel price increases. It is therefore logical to conclude that Ferrari’s experience of KERS will provide them with an advantage for the next couple of seasons before a more advanced system is legalised in 2013.

Is it enough?
The big advantage Ferrari held last year was the fact that their car was the best all round performer. McLaren were competitive on fast circuits but uncompetitive on slower ones like Monaco, while Red Bull was the other way around. Ferrari are the only one of the three lead teams that proved to be competitive on any type of circuit and the same could end up being true once again in 2011. The Red Bull is still fitted with the down on power Renault engine which should once again prove a handicap on fast circuits, while McLaren has opted for a longer wheel base car which should see the team struggle once again on slower circuits. Consistent point scoring rather than peaks and troughs could therefore explain Ferrari’s conservative design decisions and this could be the decisive factor.
There are no doubts that Alonso will be capable of challenging for the championship if Ferrari provides him with a good enough car, but there are still question marks surrounding Felipe Massa who seemed to lose motivation after the team forced him to move over for Alonso at the 2010 German grand prix. It is also unclear whether the Brazilian has fully recovered from the life threatening accident which left him with head injuries at the 2009 Hungarian grand prix. Although the team can bank on Alonso to deliver a drivers title, the constructor’s title might be beyond the teams reach given Massa recent form; especially given the strong line-ups fielded by both Red Bull and McLaren. However, as Luca Di Montezemolo said 2011 is a “must win year”, and this will put Massa’s future on the line if he doesn’t deliver.