If Formula 1 has become what it is, it’s also somewhat the fault (or merit, depending on your level of appreciation) of Ferrari. This intentionally provocative incipit makes sense and will take shape in the following lines. It is well known that victories on the track depend on a subject’s ability to impose itself at higher levels, where the rules of motorsport are written. Technical efforts become almost useless if you always have to chase those who have been able to pass their strategic vision in the dimly lit boardrooms.
Maranello, in the political decision-making tables, has not been very firm in the past years nor has it asserted its right of veto, a powerful institution that grants advantages that would not even be granted in other systems and that the team, perhaps in a slightly too charitable impulse, has practically never activated. Its introduction dates back to the early 1980s when Enzo Ferrari requested and obtained a weapon that could counteract the cartel agreements that the British teams, the majority in Formula 1 at the time, could produce in drafting technical-sporting rules.
The old leaders of the category saw a non-secondary aspect: the British garage owners came and went, Ferrari did not. With foresight, they realized the importance of a constant presence over time, a reality that differed from the manufacturers that, having exhausted their economic or sporting mission, faded away. Ferrari was, is, and will be something that F1 can count on. This has fundamental value in a context of continuous changes.
The veto, as mentioned, is a legal institution that Ferrari has never asserted in negotiations that really matter. Consider the introduction of the turbo-hybrid era. Luca Cordero Montezemolo entered the negotiation table in a position of strength that turned into one of extreme weakness.
The Scuderia agreed to lose all its strengths by signing under a contract that envisaged the death of naturally aspirated engines, the total cancellation of private tests even though the Prancing Horse owned some tracks and a test team envied by the whole world, and the shift of car design and development to the virtual side. This aspect, seemingly, is still struggling.
What Ferrari possesses – history has described it – is a facade right of veto. Diluted. A cannon with wet gunpowder. Could this institution be used to describe a new path? Could it also be wielded as a threat to reconsider F1 in its guiding philosophy and open up to a step back that would allow a rethink of the approach to development, using the track more?
Can F1 change its idea on track tests?
The answer to the above question is not obvious. In theory, it could happen if a circumstance occurred: if the issue returned to the agenda in Liberty Media meetings. Decision-makers should get the feeling that there is a movement pushing hard to bring work back to physical models at the center of technical discourse. If this will is lacking – and it seems so – we won’t go much further.
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It is clear that Ferrari – and moving away from the provocation – cannot alone determine the destinies of the top tier of motorsport, which is moving towards the realization of the Net Zero Carbon program, a move through which Formula One intends to contain emissions. And one way to implement this vision is to limit track outings deemed unnecessary. And unfortunately, tests are perceived this way today.
Years go by, continuity remains. Frédéric Vasseur, who evidently carries the strategic conception reigning in Maranello, during the pre-Christmas press conference, was very skeptical about the idea of having track tests again as they were twenty years ago. “If we were to stay with the current budget cap, reintroducing private tests would be very difficult because they have enormous costs. If you start doing tests, you have to produce twice as many engines. In a single test day, you accumulate the mileage of a race weekend. Doing 20 days of tests is equivalent to an entire season in terms of components.”
True, very true. But the problem should not be addressed with the dogmatism that materializes in the untouchability of the cost cap. Teams, also thanks to the business model introduced by Liberty Media, earn more than they spend. Given this evidence, efforts should be made to revise annual spending limits. Someone has tried to take steps, but the opposition has been strong.
James Vowles, the new team principal of Williams, has repeatedly asked to review the system to allow less organized teams to create new structures. The big teams have built a wall. This story says that cohesion is needed to achieve the result. A comprehensive view is there, but it pushes in the direction of using the track less. This is the unspoken truth that emerges with great force.
So, F1 accepts to insist on virtualization that does not always succeed in predicting every detail of every dynamic. A clear example is that of aerodynamic porpoising, which exploded two years ago as soon as the “next-gen” cars hit the track. A lot of work done during practice sessions – which are also at risk of disappearing in favor of weekends with sprint races – was needed to overcome it. Vasseur knows a lot about it since his 2022 Sauber was one of the worst machines affected by porpoising in the early days.
Without going too far back in time, the French executive explained how Ferrari was forced to sacrifice free practice in Zandvoort to conduct tests. This allowed them to understand some obscure passages and regain some ground. A fact also highlighted by Charles Leclerc recently.
But, despite this truth, Fred Vasseur claims that the current model is not changeable: “With the Cost Cap, it is impossible to reintroduce private tests. We could discuss one or two sessions, but let’s not forget that there are also Pirelli tests in parallel. The calendar is not made up of races alone.” Put this way, it is pointless to hope for a return to the past. And let’s pray that at least what is there is not taken away in the coming years..
Source: Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica