At the presentation of the 2023 Formula 1 single-seaters we were amazed to see that in the second year of the regulation based on ground effect there were still three very different technical philosophies, giving the feeling that it was still possible to evolve very different concepts to try to be successful on track.
It took three races in the 2023 Formula One season to change the minds of two of the top three teams: Red Bull dominates the scene with the RB19, while Mercedes and Ferrari have started to revise their projects in an attempt to get closer to the world champion team and Max Verstappen, a serious contender for a third consecutive championship title.
It is not surprising, on the contrary, that Aston Martin has entered the picture and is now part of the top teams, as the team had the courage to take the aerodynamic direction of Red Bull to create a “green” car that maximizes some of Adrian Newey’s concepts and goes beyond the hardware of the machine, making it the first team capable of breaking the Milton Keynes hegemony.
Mercedes rejects the “zeropods” design and from the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola it will debut a car revised and corrected by James Allison, while Ferrari will not give up on the tank above the sidepods but will dig out the sides with a new design that follows Red Bull’s guidelines. In short, it is becoming clear in F1 that the most performance-oriented development trend seems to be that of sloping sidepods.
But changing in the middle of the season will not be easy, both due to spending constraints related to the budget cap and due to time limits, as the design of the 2024 cars will begin in a couple of months. Therefore, it is not surprising that Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur prefers not to speak of a version B of the SF-23, even though the differences we will see on the red car that will race in Barcelona will be such as to authorize a suffix to the acronym we know.
What counts is not sophistry, but substance: Mercedes and Ferrari are firing their shots, knowing that the changes will have effects on the aerodynamic configuration, but the layout constraints cannot be bypassed because the chassis, engine, and gearbox cannot be touched.
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“The W14 – explains Andrew Shovlin, head of Mercedes’ track engineers – is an evolution of the car we had last year, conditioned by where the structure is positioned for the side impact. It is evident that the chosen solution did not give us the performance we wanted, but having said that, we know that there are other areas of the car where we can improve. It would be misleading to think that by returning to a more traditional low nose, the gap will disappear.”
It is increasingly evident that the difficulties of the Silver Arrows also derive from the position of the cockpit, which is too far forward compared to the layout chosen by Red Bull, not so much with the intention of having the longest possible floor but of maintaining the greatest possible distance between the front wheel and the sidepods, avoiding the harmful turbulence that can affect the vortices which must generate the pneumatic miniskirt.
The Ferrari team is also studying significant corrections that require partial changes of the cooling system (moving pipes and ducts, rather than radiators) to pursue the aerodynamic advantages that are lacking. Both teams have implemented significant modifications to the rear suspension to lower the rear at certain speeds, in the hope of stalling the diffuser.
The direction of the technical approach is that taken by Red Bull: it remains to be seen which of Mercedes and Ferrari will have more design constraints to derive greater benefits. The convergence of technical choices is underway, but one thing is certain: while at Brackley and Maranello they try to reduce the gap from the RB19 with upcoming evolutions, Adrian Newey, with a clear mind, can already think about the 2024 car. Just to maintain an advantage gained on the field.