Two to three months of development lost

Three weeks, three races, and suddenly the balance of power at the top of Formula 1 has changed massively. At Ferrari, the mood in the triple-header from Barcelona to Spielberg to Silverstone got worse every week, the more they understood the problems with an update introduced at the start of the triple. These are now likely to be written off.

It started in the high-speed passages of Barcelona. A new underbody, diffuser and sidepod met the downforce values ​​expected based on CFD and wind tunnel in the first tests in the training sessions. But suddenly bouncing occurred again in the fast corners. The famous problem of the ground effect era that started in 2022, in which the car begins an aerodynamically triggered up-down movement.

Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc initially hoped that it was just a question of understanding the setup. Or perhaps because Ferrari has never been good in Barcelona in recent years. But the problems did not go away in Spielberg. Setting up the SF-24 so that it had grip in slow corners and at the same time did not bounce in fast ones was difficult to impossible. The decision was then made in Silverstone: Sainz would revert to the previous Imola update on Friday.

“That put us in a difficult position, but we knew that beforehand,” says team boss Fred Vasseur. Instead of preparing for Silverstone, the team ran a comparison program for two training sessions. Bouncing is particularly bad on this track with its many fast corners. After the comparison tests, there is now disillusionment.

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A clear signal followed on Saturday, when both cars started with the old parts. The Barcelona version was not properly drivable. “Back to the basics, back to a car that we knew was OK in Imola,” says Carlos Sainz. He resignedly: “It’s clearly not good enough. It’s practically the same car as in Imola. But since Imola, everyone has brought in upgrades. They’ve certainly found a few tenths with their cars, while we had to go back.”

This quickly explains why Ferrari can no longer keep up with the trio of McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull. “We lost two to three months of performance gains in the wind tunnel,” says Sainz. Developments in Formula 1 have lead times of months, not weeks. The Barcelona update was therefore given the green light for development shortly after the start of the season.

“We could have added performance in these three months, but we clearly made the wrong decisions recently,” worries Sainz. Worse still: it is now clear that a sustainable solution cannot be achieved overnight using setups. At least for Budapest and Spa, and perhaps even longer, Ferrari will probably only be able to choose between the bouncy Barcelona parts and the outdated Imola model.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc
The package introduced in Imola does not jump, but has been left behind by the competition, Photo: LAT Images

Sainz now expects Barcelona parts in the absence of an alternative Hungary – where there are only a few fast spots. The jumping in those spots will probably be accepted in order to be better positioned in the slow corners: “While on high-speed tracks we will probably have to drive the old package. Otherwise the other one is undrivable.” It is not yet clear when new parts will be available that are both faster and problem-free.

Bouncing not visible in the wind tunnel: Ferrari in update dilemma

Fred Vasseur now has to defend his team against allegations that they have a misunderstanding. It’s not that bad, he swears after Silverstone: “The correlation in downforce is correct. The question mark, and everyone has it, is the occasional occurrence of bouncing. The correlation is difficult because you don’t have bouncing in the wind tunnel.”

This is actually a well-known phenomenon of the ground effect era. Teams cannot predict from wind tunnels or CFD whether an increase in downforce would also result in bouncing. “You can anticipate that you will have more bouncing with one part than with another,” says Vasseur. “But whether that has a negative impact on performance is another story.” If the car is bouncing, it doesn’t help if the parts deliver the expected downforce. The drivers cannot push to the limit and exploit it.

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Vasseur is nevertheless absolutely certain that it is an aerodynamic problem at Ferrari: “We only changed aero parts and it occurred in Spain. We have a lot of approaches to solving it. Some limit performance, others don’t.” In the long term, however, a completely new update package must now be developed.

Vasseur swears that the slump in development will remain an isolated case: “All updates in the last 16 months have had a very good correlation with the wind tunnel. That was one of the team’s strengths last year. All these small updates that paid off. This time we had a problem. It’s not the end of the world.”

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