Ferrari is still searching for the optimal interaction between the underbody and diffuser. In the era of budget caps, it’s tremendously challenging to overhaul a race car, especially when technical departures within a team have occurred. However, despite the 2023 racing campaign being labeled as another sporting failure for the Scuderia, the technicians in Maranello haven’t given up.
Under the guidance of Enrico Cardile, the development of the SF-23 has followed a clear path. The first major package of updates for the Modenese car arrived at the Spanish Grand Prix, involving new side pods that introduced a downwash slide, a crucial feature for the new-generation wing cars. The effects of this measure didn’t immediately materialize, and it took time for on-track validation.
The following month, with the introduction of a new inner wing and an updated underbody, the car’s “quirky” behavior started to diminish. Nevertheless, certain issues persisted. It was only thanks to a technical understanding of the setup approach and the characteristics of the latest layouts that Ferrari showed a considerable step forward, culminating in their first win of the season in Singapore.
Red Bull struggled at Marina Bay, while at Suzuka, as observed during the first free practice session, they seemed to have returned to their form. The Prancing Horse had anticipated this scenario and arrived at this third and final leg of the triple-header with a specific goal: to continue the learning curve in understanding the car and to solidify their position as the second force in the championship.
During the first free practice session, we were able to see the new configuration of Ferrari’s underbody. Although it’s not a specification that differs significantly from the one used previously, there are some interesting differences worth analyzing. In FP1, only Charles Leclerc has tested the updated underbody. This choice was made to compare the data collected by Carlos Sainz, who ran with the old configuration, while waiting for him to also enjoy this additional seasonal update on the Scuderia’s floor. Carlos Sainz then also used the new floor specification in the second free practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Thanks to images provided by Spanish journalist Albert Fabrega, shots taken directly from the Japanese pit lane, let’s now examine the differences and try to understand the modifications made to the vortex structure of the SF-23. The first change concerns the entry of the Venturi channels, specifically the profile of the entry edge of two of the four appendages allowed in that area.
In fact, it’s a minor change, and its goal is difficult to discern from the outside without the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation. However, the profile of this element has been reduced, leading to a change in the distribution of local pressure. This could be related to a modification in the vortex structure beneath the car, altering the pressure field. The second change relates to the portion of the floor located in front of the rear wheels, a critical area for these cars that the technicians had to work on.
In the previous version, the final lip of the floor had a visible step that has now disappeared, and the affected floor area has been lowered (we’re talking about an area of a few square centimeters). Again, this modification is minor, but it indicates that Maranello is intervening to improve airflow specifically in the area between the tire shoulder and the sidewall of the diffuser.