A recurring theme in discussions among Formula 1 enthusiasts is the total absence of on-track testing for various teams. What was once commonplace is now something no longer possible, except for tests permitted by the FIA to test components for future regulations or to support Pirelli, the sole tire supplier. Teams can rely only on virtual simulation tools or decide to “sacrifice” some free practice sessions to study solutions analyzed virtually in the factory. Frederic Vasseur does not hide that Ferrari has benefited from this type of work, especially in the second and last part of the 2023 season, even during one of the team’s most challenging weekends.
Vasseur: “Private tests? They would help in development, but they have a huge cost, and with the budget cap, it is not possible.”
Ground-effect cars are much more complex than those of the previous generation, due to the increased performance importance of the underfloor, especially the lower part, and its sensitivity to external factors, such as asphalt characteristics. Enrico Cardile confirmed in a recent interview with Motorsport Italia that even the type of asphalt can impact the bottom’s ability to produce downforce, especially if the road surface requires changes to ride heights or suspension settings. Every factor is closely connected, and even small variations can produce significant differences in the downforce the car generates.
It is not uncommon to encounter wrong settings that surprise engineers, despite state-of-the-art simulation tools like those installed in Maranello. “The simulator-track correlation is not always accurate, especially in some areas like bouncing,” explained the French engineer. An example mentioned during the Christmas lunch with journalists was the shakedown with the 2022 Alfa Romeo, the C42, “which was bouncing like a kangaroo” on the Fiorano track. The Frenchman called his friend and Ferrari Racing Director, Laurent Mekies, asking if the track asphalt had deteriorated compared to previous years, but received a negative answer. So, all the teams, including Red Bull, which quickly addressed the issue, only discovered the porpoising effect on the track.
On-track action has become even more critical than in the past. As we highlighted with the assistance of an engineer from a current F1 top team, the reintroduction of tests would be the real solution to bring teams closer faster, thereby increasing the spectacle on the track. However, according to Fred Vasseur, with the introduction of the financial regulations, that opportunity has been practically eliminated. “With the budget cap, it is impossible to conduct on-track tests, given the cost it would entail to produce additional parts, a Power Unit for that mileage, and everything needed to carry out a test.” It is still an impractical solution today, also due to an increasingly tight schedule where few days remain between track weekends, work in the factory, sponsorship events, and Pirelli tests or support for the FIA in developing certain components. However, those FIA ‘TPC’ tests, even more critical from January, as Ferrari will be able to start using the F1-75, the first car of the new Gen. The car that Sainz and Leclerc will use at Fiorano for the traditional pre-season training days.
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By sacrificing the free practices in Zandvoort, Ferrari helped the development of the 2024 car
The SF-23 was a car very sensitive to any single variation in setup parameters but also environmental factors, especially wind. It had a very narrow operating window, something that the Ferrari 676 project (2024), now defined in what is considered the Bahrain Spec but still evolving in the halls of Maranello, aims to eliminate. Drivers, especially Charles Leclerc, after the introduction of two significant update packages between Montmelo and Austria, couldn’t have constant confidence in the car because its behavior changed continuously, even in the same corner but in different laps. During the season, developments were targeted to make the aerodynamic platform of the SF-23 increasingly stable, giving more confidence to the drivers and indirectly extracting more performance, as explained by F1 experts Paolo D’Alessandro & Piergiuseppe Donadoni for formu1a.uno.
Japan’s floor is a clear example, bringing Leclerc a much more significant gain than the wind tunnel indicated. However, an important step emphasized by Enrico Cardile, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, but also by Frederic Vasseur himself, was the Zandvoort weekend. “We sacrificed the free practices in the Netherlands to run tests, and perhaps that’s where we understood something more and allowed us to be more performant towards the end of the season.” Not so much in terms of development since, similarly to what happened in 2022, the last aerodynamic novelty arrived in Japan, but what was better understood is the car’s behavior. Above all, the challenging correlation between the simulator and the track has been improved on some significant aerodynamic instabilities, first appearing in Spain, at the debut of the new ‘downwash’ package, and then again in Hungary, two tracks with high downforce like the Dutch one. A useful step for the end of the season but also and above all for the 2024 car.