The factors that hurt Ferrari in Australia

Ferrari's failure to follow through on its pre-season testing promise with victory in the season-opening Australian has left fans, and even the Italian team itself, searching for answers.

The factors that hurt Ferrari in Australia

Few believe that the speed shown in testing was not real, as there would be little incentive for a big team to go for such glory runs.

So, as the investigation continues at Maranello to get to the bottom of why it was beaten by both Mercedes and Red Bull, here we look at some of the factors that almost certainly contributed to what happened.

Aero concept

As we know, F1's aero regulations changed for 2019, simplifying the design of the front wing in order that it reduces the amount of 'outwash' that can be generated. This makes the cars less sensitive to the wake created by the car ahead.

The principle idea here is that the wing design should allow drivers to follow each other more closely without significant performance drop-off.

Two schools of thought arose to deal with these regulation changes. Ferrari took what is perceived to be the more aggressive approach in an effort to recover as much of the outwash effect as it could, enhancing flow down the rest of the car.

In Melbourne the team discovered that a bumpy, high-downforce street circuit was actually not ideal for its design, as it simply couldn't crank on enough load to balance the car front-to-rear.

Ferrari SF90 front wing detail

Ferrari SF90 front wing detail

Photo by: Sutton Images

The make-up of Ferrari's front wing means it has quite a narrow portion of the wing devoted to downforce creation (highlighted in yellow), whilst the outermost section correlates with the position of the wheel behind in order to drag flow across and around its surface. This creates the outwash that will improve the performance of the car downstream.

The inboard part of the uppermost two flaps can be adjusted to trim the amount of downforce that can be generated and balance the needs of the driver. As this can only be changed when the car is stationary it makes for a critical decision based on the tyre it is running at the time.

Alfa Romeo Racing C38 front wing detail

Alfa Romeo Racing C38 front wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In fact, it's probably a good reason why Alfa Romeo's even more visually aggressive design has more wing apportioned to the adjustable flaps and a less elegant outwash section (arrowed).

It's highly probable that these problems encountered by Ferrari are connected to the complications with the performance of the tyres, not only over a single lap but also over the course of a race stint.

Unable to add any more front wing angle and obtain the optimum bite from the front axle, it left it with understeer, which, when it knew it was on its limit, it attempted to dial out by reducing rear-end downforce.

Given these challenges, the Scuderia may have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to its front wing design for future street races. Perhaps it will need a design that is more akin to the one used by Alfa Romeo, forsaking some of the outwash effect for more downforce generating real estate.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90

Photo by: Zak Mauger / LAT Images

This issue may have left Ferrari in somewhat of a spiral, as it also meant that it couldn't get or keep the tyres in the optimum working range for the given compound either. That may have prompted it to try to force Mercedes' hand strategically during the race.

Sebastian Vettel was stopped early, at which point he was still in touching distance of the Hamilton, just 3.7 seconds adrift and attempted the undercut to gain track position.

Ferrari pit crew during pitstop

Ferrari pit crew during pitstop

Photo by: Erik Junius

An adjustment was made to the front wing during that stop, with Vettel choosing to turn the wing down by one click, a decision that may, or may not have played a significant role in his second stint. After the race Vettel did point out that the medium compound tyre just didn't work during that stint -

"The reason I was so slow in the race was mostly due to the fact that the car could not find enough grip with the medium tyres that we fitted at the pit stop".

The medium C3 compound has a different working range to the softer C4 compound, 105-135ºC and 90-120ºC respectively meaning that they need to be worked a little differently to get the best from them in their performance sweet spot.

Stopping so early into the race, with the knowledge of having to potentially go to the end on those tyres, Vettel set about treating them with kid gloves, perhaps to the detriment of keeping them in the tolerances of their working range.

Conversely by the time Leclerc made his second stop he'd already done a mammoth stint on the soft tyre but switched to the harder compound.

Leclerc also decided to take out one turn of front wing to balance the car but with a slightly higher but narrower working range than the medium tyre (110-135ºC) he was able to push the tyres from the get-go, which seemed to bring his SF90 to life.

Able to lean on the tyres and reel in his teammate Leclerc was pretty pleased with the car in the last stint: "We decided to fit the hard tyres at the pitstop and, I have to say, that from then on, the car improved a lot and I was able to push".

Energy recovery consequences

The team will be evaluating its operational response to this dilemma, and hope it only carries weight at similar bumpy, high downforce tracks in the future, as its power unit performance prompted some intrigue too.

Both its drivers were effectively running different races, driven by the tyre factors already raised.

But, Vettel's race had already started to unravel before Leclerc's race took off, with him unable to get on the power early, likely due to the understeer caused by their front wing drama. This element could have have a knock-on effect on Ferrari's energy recovery system.

The onboard footage from Vettel's car shows how the German was struggling during the second stint, requiring a change in tact that saw him using a quite excessive lift and coast tactic into the corners. This may have been linked to energy recovery rather than a bid to save fuel.

As the race went on, it appears this became more and more difficult, with derates clearly audible as the system could not keep supplying the energy demanded by the MGU-H and MGU-K. This will have hurt top speed.

This exacerbated the problems at hand and allowed Vettel to slip back into the clutches of Leclerc, whose issues had subsided with the use of the harder tyre and allowed him to recover energy in a more conventional way, limiting his apex losses and generally being quicker on the straights.

Underlying issues

The concern for any Ferrari fan is that the issues seen in Australia could be indicative of the season ahead.

Whilst it was clear that Vettel's second stint was abysmal, Leclerc's was actual pretty decent when you adjust his times for the hard tyre selection.

This alone should allay any fears that people may have of a wider issue, and further embelishes the view of many that this was a one-off.

But it does prove that the Scuderia is vulnerable under certain conditions and needs to prepare itself more effectively for the coming races.

It also goes to show the tightrope that must be walked to keep these 2019 right within their operating window, be it from a tyre perspective or the power unit.

 

shares
comments
Russell "not interested" in fighting only Kubica
Previous article

Russell "not interested" in fighting only Kubica

Next article

F1 teams can't "run our businesses" without 2021 clarity

F1 teams can't "run our businesses" without 2021 clarity
Load comments
The code of conduct debate prompted by the Alonso/Raikkonen marginal call Prime

The code of conduct debate prompted by the Alonso/Raikkonen marginal call

Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen's clash in Austin has thrust the debate about rights and wrongs of wheel-to-wheel combat firmly into the public spotlight, prompting complaints about the Formula 1 rules process. But what can the FIA do to prevent the issue resurfacing?

How Ferrari gained a new edge over McLaren in F1 2021 battle Prime

How Ferrari gained a new edge over McLaren in F1 2021 battle

Supremacy in the McLaren vs Ferrari fight over third place in the constructors’ championship has ebbed and flowed between the two teams so far in the 2021 Formula 1 season. But for several key reasons, right now it seems the advantage has swung decisively back to the Scuderia and McLaren knows it.

Formula 1
Oct 27, 2021
The details that boosted Verstappen and held back Hamilton in Austin Prime

The details that boosted Verstappen and held back Hamilton in Austin

As the 2021 Formula 1 title battle winds towards its climax, the United States GP added another thrilling act in the Lewis Hamilton-Max Verstappen battle. Although Hamilton aced the start, Verstappen and Red Bull took the initiative with strategy and were richly rewarded, despite Mercedes' best efforts as the race went down to the wire

Formula 1
Oct 25, 2021
US Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

US Grand Prix Driver Ratings

On a baking hot afternoon in Texas, Formula 1 drivers were tested to their limits. As the pressure on the title contending squads reaches an ever-greater level of intensity, the foremost challengers again showed their class, but were outshone by a standout drive from the upper midfield

Formula 1
Oct 25, 2021
The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert Prime

The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert

It's 50 years since Jo Siffert was killed in his prime at Brands Hatch. The Swiss scored just two world championship wins in a Formula 1 career spent largely with privateer teams, but showed on numerous occasions in single-seaters and in sportscars with Porsche that he could beat any of the best drivers of his era given the right equipment.

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
Why a misunderstood Kimi Raikkonen will thrive in retirement Prime

Why a misunderstood Kimi Raikkonen will thrive in retirement

Three years on from Kimi Raikkonen's last Grand Prix victory at Austin, he is now six races away from ending the longest Formula 1 career in history. His friend and former Ice1 Racing rally team PR man Anthony Peacock explains why there’s nobody quite like the 2007 world champion and why F1 will miss him (but he won’t miss it).

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
How Verstappen has become F1 champion material Prime

How Verstappen has become F1 champion material

As Red Bull and Honda go all-out for victory in the Japanese engine manufacturer’s last season of its latest Formula 1 dalliance, Max Verstappen finds himself thrust into a compelling title fight with Lewis Hamilton. He told OLEG KARPOV about his evolution into a world championship contender and why Red Bull's no compromise ethos suits him down to the ground

Formula 1
Oct 23, 2021
Why long-run times should please Red Bull in Austin F1 battle Prime

Why long-run times should please Red Bull in Austin F1 battle

Mercedes has been on a roll of late in the ultra-tight fight to win the 2021 Formula 1 world championship. It started off well in practice at Austin for this weekend’s US Grand Prix, but Red Bull got closer as Friday unfolded and even seemed to find an edge in one critical area of what seems set to be set to be another close contest.

Formula 1
Oct 23, 2021