Will Gray

Tech Talk: Is Ferrari back on track?

Will Gray

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Ferrari came out of the European Grand Prix at Valencia
looking like the team now closest to challenging Red Bull Racing - but what's
been going on at Maranello and are things now back on track?

When Ferrari launched their F150, as it was called back
in January, the car immediately looked on the pace. Since then, however, the subsequent
name clash comparison with a Ford truck appeared apt as its pace fell off compared
to its rivals and the men and women at Maranello were forced to do some serious
re-planning to save their season once again.

The dominance of Red Bull, coupled with the resurgent
McLaren, which turned things around in time for the first race after a
disastrous test debut, put Ferrari firmly third in the order at the start of
the season - and while it is no disaster being third, it's not where Ferrari
expect to be.

Recently, however, it seems things are starting to

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso started the year with four
consecutive fifth place grid spots followed by two fourths, ranging between
1.445s and 0.802s off pole position. In Canada, however, he was just 0.185s off
pole in second and while he was fourth again in Valencia he was just 0.479s off
the pace.

In races, Ferrari started the season with the fastest car
of all in Melbourne and they have been within around half a second of the lead
pace in all the races where relative race pace could be compared except from
Spain, where it has been suggested Alonso deliberately ran slowly in the latter
part of the race as his position was not under threat.

Ferrari's pace in Valencia, in which Alonso secured a
strong second place, left McLaren admitting that Ferrari had passed them in terms
of performance, with the British team's two drivers bemoaning a lack of

The arrival of Pat Fry from McLaren, it seems, has been
the impetus for this turn-around at Ferrari, so after he finally joined the
team following 18 months on 'gardening leave' what changes have been made?


Fry has stepped into the role of sidelined technical
director Aldo Costa and is now the technical voice of the team.

Effectively positioned as the new Ross Brawn, he is
taking control of the technical team and has drawn chief designer Nikolas
Tombazis up into a more aerodynamics-led role to oversee a new structure within
that team, with Marco de Luc stepping aside. Having spent from 1998 to 2003 -
some of Ferrari's more recent glory years - as the team's chief aerodynamicist,
Tombazis' repositioning seems a shrewd move and could be critical to the team's
future success.


A disaster with the wind tunnel calibration earlier this
year has now been solved, but it is the team's working practices that Fry has
now picked out for change.

Tombazis' arrival has allowed them to implement a less
rigid structure within the aerodynamics department and that in turn has led to
a reorganisation of how they utilise wind tunnel. Usually teams operate a
system in which a number of aero sub-teams rotate to allow them time to design,
build and then test, and Ferrari's re-structuring should allow developments to
move more rapidly through this process and also allow improved collaboration
between wind tunnel and CFD teams.


Alonso admitted in the build-up to Valencia that the team
is "a long way behind in terms of aerodynamics" and suggested it would
take them around two or three months to catch up.

The nature of the final sector at Valencia makes it a
good indicator of aerodynamic efficiency - and Ferrari were indeed noticeably
lacking. In qualifying, Alonso was just 0.024s off pole man Sebastian Vettel in
Sector 1 and 0.002s off in Sector 2, but in the final sector he was 0.386s
slower, notably also beaten by both McLarens as well as the two Red Bulls. That
suggests the Ferrari is lacking in the way it works its floor, as this is where
most efficient downforce comes from.


Closing that aero efficiency gap should come in two ways -
both in some way related to the ban on off-throttle blown diffusers.

Ferrari was left behind in this development thanks in
part to the wind tunnel correlation issues earlier in the season, so their hope
is for the gap to close when their competitors' advantage in this area is
reduced - although Fry admitted: "whether it is a landmark race or not I
don't know."

The diffuser ban could also give Ferrari another boost in
terms of future upgrades. The blown diffusers will become less effective and
less stable without off-throttle blowing, so teams that have gone down that
route may be subject to more significant diffuser re-design after Silverstone.

Other than that, in-season developments usually come from
attention to detail, with the focus often placed on developments to the front
and rear wings as well as tweaks to the floor and diffuser. Ferrari introduced
a new rear suspension in Montreal, however, and that should help improve set-up
flexibility as part of a major update due for Silverstone.


Ferrari could, however, be brought back down to earth
quickly at Silverstone, as even with the changes the track's layout does not
suit the car and Pirelli's likely choice of hard tyre compound could also go
against them.

The fast flowing track is best for cars with efficient
aerodynamics, so unless the upgrade is truly a big and successful one, Ferrari
could struggle more again. Ferrari is also naturally easy on its tyres, and so
is better suited to softer compounds as it does not wear them so quickly,
whereas it struggles to get the harder compounds to racing temperature as
quickly as its rivals.

There are, however, positive vibes now at Maranello. This
time last year, Fernando Alonso launched his title attack when many had written
him off, and he almost made it work. This year, with Vettel's dominance he
faces an even harder task - but at least Ferrari now seems to be going the
right way about it...

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