In Hungary last weekend, the Scuderia delivered a new specification of its power unit to its customer teams, which it will integrate at a later date into its own chassis, probably at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc, Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen received a new internal combustion engine, a new turbocharger and a new MGU-H. Romain Grosjean, for his part, only got a new V6, since he had already used three turbos and MGU-Hs and thus the team wanted him to avoid a grid penalty on a circuit where overtaking is difficult.
The choice of Maranello to provide the third evolution of its engine first to its customer teams follows the same logic that led to the introduction of the second specification: Ferrari had introduced its update at Haas and Sauber for Monaco, before equipping Sebastian Vettel with it a race later in Canada. This shift allows Italian engine manufacturers to evaluate their new product in real conditions and to carry out possible additional tests during the summer break (which does not apply to engine manufacturers), before installing it in its SF71H at Spa, where power is an essential parameter.
This update comes as the performance of the Italian engine is being debated. In Germany, Toto Wolff claimed that the Ferrari had a straight-line advantage of half a second on the Silver Arrows. It seems that, curiously, this advantage is not observed on every straight and is visible only in certain segments of it. Our colleagues from Auto Motor und Sport obtained GPS data from all cars for the section between turns 2 and 6 of the Hockenheim circuit, which is taken flat-out. On this section of 850 meters in length, no difference is noticeable in the first two hectometres. It is from 225 km/h onwards that a first gap appears: Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India get a run on the other cars. At 250 km/h, suddenly, the SF71H moves away from all its competitors … before running at similar speeds in the last 50 meters.
This late acceleration of the Ferrari surprised the competition: “Clearly we are scratching our heads,” Cyril Abiteboul told Autosport, “because we look in particular at the GPS profile, and we see indeed that it’s really strange what they are doing. But doing something strange doesn’t mean that it’s illegal.” In theory, the energy should be used at the start of the acceleration phase on the straight. In order to set quicker lap times, it is crucial to produce strong bursts indeed.
“We have a set quantity of energy at our disposal, which we will use on the circuit segments where the driver opens the throttle,” Renault’s engine technical director Rémi Taffin told F1i some time ago. “A mathematical analysis shows that you need maximum energy at the start of the acceleration phase so you can reach the highest speed as fast as possible. Therefore, we supply the driver with a lot of energy for the initial burst, even if this results in a small loss thereafter. That’s why, when we look to manage the energy efficiently, the driver is asked to lift and coast or we decide to cut the MGU-K at the end of the straight.”
Except that the Ferrari seems to enjoy a second burst, at the end of the straight line…
DEPLOY AND HARVEST SIMULTANEOUSLY?
The speed of the red cars in a straight line is disconcerting and, quite honestly, difficult to explain. It’s more of a power advantage than an aerodynamic trick as the SF71H runs with wings at normal angles, says Nick Chester, Enstone’s chassis technical director:
“It just seems to be [that Ferrari have] more power unit output. Their straight-line speeds are very strong while running a sensible rear wing on the car. So they do seem to just have good power.”
We know that the Italian battery has an unusual configuration. While other engine suppliers treat their battery as a whole, Ferrari uses a single box containing two batteries managed separately. If Maranello has been using this system since 2014, it is rumoured in the paddock that a recent development would allow this split configuration to deploy energy and to simultaneously harvest. According to Mark Hughes from Motorsport Magazine, one of the two batteries could send electrical energy to the MGU-K while the other would harvest from the MGU-H.
This recent development would not be linked to the combustion engine (since Räikkönen was as fast as Vettel in the straight lines of Hockenheim while his car still uses the first spec) nor to the hardware of the energy store (Sebastian Vettel has been using his second battery since Bahrain and Kimi Raikkonen since Barcelona).