Will Gray

Tech Talk: How Ferrari’s F10 is fluffing its lines…

Will Gray

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In a season that began with a one-two success for Ferrari, things seem to be going downhill fast for the Italian giants - so what's going wrong and is there any way they can turn things around?

Ferrari had a car in early pre-season testing that seemed likely to be the class of the field. Red Bull burst their bubble, but they still had the pace to be 'best of the rest' in Bahrain and benefited from a Red Bull error to score a satisfying early victory.

Since then, though, they have been overhauled by their rivals and have now dropped firmly to the bottom of the leading quartet on pace, looking more likely to have their hands full fending off Renault at the next round in Canada than closing in on those at the front.

After a disappointing Turkish Grand Prix in which they struggled for pace, Stefano Domenicali admitted the team had "stepped back" and needed to "address the issues" they have, after Fernando Alonso failed to reach Q3 and both he and Felipe Massa were left battling for the lower order points.

The first issue, it seems, stems right back to the middle of 2009, when they decided to stop development in their car for that season and focus all efforts on what would become the F10.

Given their fundamental problem in integrating the 'must-have' double diffuser on the design they had at the time, it seemed a sensible move, allowing them more design and development time to perfect a focused machine for a renewed attack on the title this year.

However, while the double diffuser was certainly important, the changed aerodynamic regulations for 2009 were still in their infancy when Ferrari stopped development and other areas of the car still had the potential for continued analysis and improvement. By stopping development on last year's car, Ferrari lost out on vital track time in which to test iterations of, for instance, the new front and rear wing designs, splitters and so on, that could have made the detail design areas of the F10 much more advanced.

It is perhaps down to this that the lack of detail development in 2009 that the Ferrari has been behind in this area so far this season. Most leading teams, including Renault, have introduced new parts every race; Red Bull has altered almost every aerodynamic surface on their car since the season began. But despite their own advances, Ferrari are still left waiting for a "significant upgrade package" which is due in Valencia and likely to be behind their rivals by the time it arrives.

Ferrari have already been introducing plenty of developments, but they came to a halt when the 'F-duct' arrived.

The weak front wing with which they started the season, one more susceptible to the separation that can significantly affect the performance of the rest of the car's aerodynamics, changed twice, first for Bahrain and then for Melbourne. A new double-decked floor with modified diffuser and significantly altered front chassis splitter then arrived in China, but that is when the 'F-duct' was also introduced - and since then, progress has been limited.

After Sauber, who benefited from former McLaren tester Pedro de la Rosa's insider knowledge, Ferrari were the first to come up with a copycat concept, but their focus has been on it ever since as they have had to make several changes to its design to get it working, and it's still not right.

Domenicali admitted the team has "invested a lot on the new system with the wing" and said in Monaco that it had actually reduced the car's ultimate downforce, even if it gave a straight-line speed improvement.

The team, which has been used to having so much resource in the past, now seems to be struggling with F1's new self-enforced 'resource restriction' concept - and while other teams have been able to function with reduced manpower, Ferrari's resource concentration on the 'F-duct' left them with limited personnel to work on the basics.

Domenicali was forced to admit: "The bits we tried to put in place are not enough to cope with the pace of the development the biggest teams have done." And their determination to persist with the 'F-duct' rather than focus on the fundamentals could just have ruined their season.

In the last two decades, 85 per cent (or 17 out of 20) of the teams that won the opening race went on to win the drivers' title. Thanks to their rivals' mistakes, the current title standings mean it is not too late for Ferrari to turn things around. But their next development step will have to be significant if they are to stay in the chase for long...

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