The start of the 2023 Formula One season for Scuderia Ferrari has brought very few satisfactions, with only one podium finish in the first seven races. A disappointing result, mainly due to the difficulties during the races, which the Prancing Horse team has paid a heavy price for despite some good qualifying results.
Identifying the weaknesses of the SF-23 car, the technical group of the Maranello team started working on the areas where the most significant problems arose, such as the car’s unpredictability in high-speed corners, an aspect that the drivers have complained about on multiple occasions. This is why a new floor was introduced in Miami, aiming to create a more stable platform and provide greater confidence to the driver.
During the Barcelona Grand Prix, the first significant package of this early part of the season arrived, featuring a modified floor, new sidepods, and other small details scattered throughout the car. The area that attracted the most attention is undoubtedly the sidepod design, which incorporated some concepts from competitors while not completely abandoning central ideas from the F1-75 and SF-23 projects. After explaining the objectives of the new package, Jock Clear also discussed the genesis and timing required to bring these updates to the track.
The “fish tank,” a term coined to describe the cutout in the bodywork, has not completely disappeared but now has reduced width. Alongside this solution, the technical group chose to introduce a downwash solution, aiming to modify how the airflow on the car interacts with the floor and the upper part of the diffuser.
According to Jock Clear, this design is not directly inspired by Red Bull’s solutions but rather follows its own development path pursued over the past months to improve the performance of the SF-23. According to the drivers’ feedback as well, the basic idea behind this package is not only to improve the SF-23’s absolute performance but also to provide a broader window of usability, addressing one of the weaknesses of this project that has always existed.
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The choice to modify the sidepods after just a few races didn’t come as a complete surprise given the car’s performance. However, as was the case with Mercedes, people wondered why teams had remained so faithful to their ideas at the beginning of the 2023 Formula One season instead of adopting intermediate solutions. “When teams present their car, they are all convinced of their own solutions. So, no one says, ‘We put these sidepods, but we weren’t convinced’,” explained the British engineer.
“We were all convinced of what we had. But then we all have to learn from what others do and also from what we do. We’re not copying anyone per se. We look at what they have done, go back to our work, and try to understand if it works,” the British engineer pointed out.
“[The new package] appeared on the car because it works. Ultimately, we only follow science and the beauty of aerodynamics, and the beauty of this sport and the reason why we do it, in my case for 30 years, is that every day is different, every year is different, every car is different. We are still learning. There are millions of ways to solve problems, and we will never be able to solve them all.” – he continued.
It’s no secret that Ferrari has looked at the competition, a point that Jock Clear himself didn’t deny. The Maranello team started considering a possible change of direction as early as pre-season testing. However, the decision to work on a different path came only two months ago when the limitations of the current project and the merits of solutions present on other cars became apparent.
“It’s one of those organic developments, you know. I’m sure we considered it from day one of the first test when you look at different cars and observe each one’s solutions, and you start thinking, ‘Okay, maybe there are other ways they could have solved this problem.’ As soon as Red Bull’s dominance became evident, of course, you have to look very, very closely at what they’re doing. So, in a normal process, I would say that probably two months ago, we chose this path.”
According to Jock Clear, it would have been too easy for the Maranello team to quickly adopt a concept shown by a rival team, but the risk would have been having a package that was similar to others but without the certainty of seeing the desired benefits. It’s a similar explanation to what Red Bull’s leaders had given when asked if they were concerned about their RB19 floor being exposed to the sight of their opponents in Monaco.
Similarly, James Vowles, Team Principal of Williams, had also explained that introducing innovations by copying from rivals without fully understanding their functioning, also in terms of integration into their own project, wouldn’t yield long-term advantages.
“As soon as you see what someone else is doing well and you put it into your project, you reason, and you don’t have an impulsive reaction by putting it on your own car because it wouldn’t work,” Jock Clear pointed out – “You have to give yourself a couple of months to sort it out and make it work with your car. And then you say, ‘Indeed, I understand where they want to go.’ What you see is the result, and it will lead to further development in this direction.” – the Ferrari man concluded ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix.