Progress is an inexorable wind that sweeps away the past. In Formula 1, this storm has manifested itself by changing the world in which cars are designed and tested. Obviously, regulatory support was needed to slowly shift the definition of cars from the material sphere (models in wind tunnels to continuous cycle track tests) to the virtual realm of computational analysis. Ferrari has not always been successful in riding this change, and part of the accumulated delay is the result of some political choices that proved weak.
In the early 2010s, the Scuderia accepted losing all its strengths by signing a document that predicted the demise of aspirated engines, the total cancellation of private tests, even though the Maranello team owned some tracks and an envy-inducing testing team worldwide, and the shift of car design and development to the virtual side. This aspect, in which strides are being made after years of struggle.
The path is laid out, and there is no turning back, so adaptation is necessary: the destinies of the top tier of motorsport are linked to the Net Zero Carbon program, through which decision-makers intend to contain emissions. And one way to apply this vision is to limit track outings considered unnecessary. Unfortunately, tests are perceived this way nowadays.
Years pass, and the lines of continuity remain. Frédéric Vasseur, who evidently carries the strategic conception reigning in Maranello, during the pre-Christmas press conference, expressed great skepticism about the idea of having track tests as it was twenty years ago. “If we stay with the current budget cap, reintroducing private tests would be very difficult because they have enormous costs.”
“If you start testing, you have to produce twice as many engines. In just one day of testing, you accumulate the mileage of a race weekend. Doing 20 days of testing is equivalent to an entire season in terms of components.”
True, very true. But the problem should not be tackled with the dogmatism that is realized in the untouchability of the cost cap. Teams, thanks to the business model introduced by Liberty Media, earn more than they spend. Given this evidence, we should work on revising the annual spending limits, but no one is really convinced to do so.
Formula 1, therefore, accepts insisting on virtualization, which does not always manage to predict in detail every dynamic that occurs on the asphalt. A glaring example is the aerodynamic pumping that exploded two years ago as soon as the “next-gen” cars hit the track. But despite this, Fred Vasseur argues 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 just made up of races.”
Ferrari: the growth of the virtual sector
So we must make the most of the situation and push hard on the simulation aspect to position oneself as a credible entity to compete for big prizes. In Maranello, especially with the approval of the new simulator, giant steps have been taken in terms of correlations. Enrico Cardile, the technical director of the Maranello team, reported this to AMuS: “I am satisfied with the level of correlation we have reached, be it CFD, wind tunnel, or driving simulator.”
A specific phase of race weekends reassures the men in red about the “computational robustness” achieved. Again, Enrico Cardile: “The Sprint weekends, when you only have an hour to prepare the car, demonstrate this. It depends much more on preparation, which is the result of simulations. We recognize that we have better average performances in Sprint weekends than other teams. It is one of our strengths.”
Having only one hour of practice is a severe stress test that, despite the technical delay of the SF-23 against the Red Bull “icebreaker,” has seen the performance of the car better than when there is more time to work. A sign that homework is done well, and you arrive on the track with a setup already well-centered. The exact opposite of what happens, for example, at Mercedes, which has generally suffered from the lack of FP2 and FP3.
The first two years of the new technical course of Formula 1 have served Ferrari well to calibrate the system. Now the goal is to reap the rewards of necessary work that, especially in the last championship, has limited performance. But there is confidence for the last part of the season when the car, despite its structural limitations, has been improving and immediately saw the residual updates introduced working.
A tangible sign that the solution to the problems that arose from the first day the SF-23 hit the track has begun to be found. Cardile explained that the data collected on various circuits was subjected to virtual systems, and these, loaded with the correct elements, began to provide the right answers, the ones they expected. Whether this will be enough to reach the Red Bull levels already in 2024, we will only understand from March onwards, but it is certainly a good omen to think about putting together a season with some more satisfaction. The rest will follow naturally.
Source: Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica