Ferrari’s Game-Changing Upgrade Initiative
Ferrari revs up for a game-changing weekend at Imola, armed with an upgraded initiative following recent modifications in Miami. Striving to enhance their car’s performance and manageability, they navigate a challenging landscape of variable behavior and capricious dynamics. The drive to perfection is never straightforward, and Ferrari is prepared to take the curves head-on.
Ferrari plans to carry forward its upgrade initiative at Imola this weekend, following the debut of minor floor/diffuser modifications in Miami. These changes are part of the team’s ongoing efforts to make their car more manageable.
Ferrari’s key goal is to enhance the car’s performance, but the team has been diligently working throughout the season to achieve more predictable behavior from the car under various conditions. Some progress was noted in Miami, however, the issue still persists.
Both Ferrari drivers have expressed dissatisfaction about the car’s capricious and sometimes erratic nature. Charles Leclerc voiced his concerns about the car’s instability and the swing between “oversteer and understeer”. After the Miami race, Carlos Sainz confessed that he was unable to drive aggressively due to the car’s variable behavior over extended runs.
Ferrari’s Jock Clear, who plays a crucial role in Ferrari’s engineering team as Charles Leclerc’s driving coach, elucidated on the areas of upgrade focus in Miami.
“The changes in the regulations mainly affected the floor’s sides and height,” Clear noted. “The distance between the floor and the ground greatly impacts the downforce overall. That’s where most teams are focusing their development.
“We have witnessed a few advancements in the floor design for this car this year, primarily in the same area, that is, the section right in front of the rear wheel. Here, the flow is managed either outside the wheel or inside the wheel, and subsequently into the diffuser area.”
“The modifications are rather delicate, and unless you’re actively seeking them, they’ll be quite challenging to discern. However, in terms of aerodynamics, they’re significantly effective. They’re essentially a reaction to the feedback we’ve received from the drivers in the initial four races of the year about the car’s shortcomings.
“In general, our aim is to increase downforce and reduce drag – a goal shared by everyone. But the delicate modifications can be quite impactful these days, as you’re not going to suddenly discover a 2%, 3%, or 4% increase in downforce. However, you can slightly alter the air flow and effectively narrow the balance window, thereby providing the driver with a more stable balance through medium speed, high speed, low speed, and naturally, during braking, entry, and exit.
“We can strive to make the car a bit more user-friendly in all those areas where the floor is highly mobile, which in turn makes it more predictable for the driver.”
The adjustments made in Miami didn’t dramatically change Ferrari’s situation, but they did align as anticipated.
Clear suggests that Leclerc’s overconfidence in the esses, where he used excessive kerb at Turn 6, bottomed out and crashed in Q3, might indicate that there was some improvement in the car’s high-speed stability.
“For the area it’s targeting, which is primarily the medium-speed and high-speed stability, this is a track that’s going to highlight that,” Clear stated. “The car has been performing as we predicted, and both drivers are indeed more at ease with the car’s medium and high-speed stability.”
“Perhaps what occurred with Charles is an affirmation of that,” Clear suggests. “He was truly pushing the limits in those high-speed turns 4, 5, and 6, and the results were as you saw.”
The car’s setup enhancements, as Ferrari has gained familiarity, have also contributed to progress in this area.
However, as Clear explains, now that the team has improved at maintaining the car within a better performance window, the focus has shifted to reducing the car’s peakiness.
“With a new aerodynamic package introduced over the winter, it’s taken us some time to figure out the setup,” Clear acknowledges. “We know that we made some strides in Australia, and we certainly made significant progress in Azerbaijan.
“This floor modification further assists in getting the car into a better performance window, and, as the drivers have reported, it is peaky, so we need to address some of that peakiness.
“That’s likely our main focus currently, to make the car a bit more manageable so the drivers can have more confidence.”
Having peaky downforce is always detrimental. While high downforce figures might impress someone who doesn’t fully grasp the dynamics, the reality is that drivers can’t effectively utilize these peaks. Instead, it’s the troughs that determine how confidently they can push the car to its limits.
As I’ve previously mentioned, Leclerc tends to push into these peaks, which is likely where most of his errors stem from. On the other hand, Carlos Sainz drives according to the car’s limitations, or to the troughs, which might make him slightly slower but less prone to errors by not constantly teetering on the edge.
Ferrari introduced a new floor in Miami, aiming to mitigate the peaky nature of the underfloor. However, considering Leclerc’s two crashes, I’m doubtful it significantly addressed the issue. While Leclerc was indeed at fault for overusing the kerb, such aggressive driving is sometimes necessary during qualifying to extract the maximum performance from the car.
In my previous article on Mercedes’ issues, I suggested that the instability of the centre of pressure of the underfloor could be a likely culprit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrari faced a similar problem. The sides of the floor’s height increase by 15mm and the elevation of the floor’s throat for 2023 could easily have intensified this shift in the centre of pressure.
With the original floor heights in 2022, the underfloor would have been more potent as it operated closer to the ground more often, thus generating more ground effect downforce. This explains why the bouncing we frequently observed was a more significant problem than what we see today.
However, by raising the floor’s throat height and increasing the leakage along the sides of the floor, the floor might easily move in and out of the optimal ground clearance to maximize the underfloor’s efficiency.
To simplify that phenomenon a bit, last year the underfloor consistently experienced a certain percentage of airflow stall, which worsened as the car got closer to the ground. This year, it doesn’t suffer at higher ride heights but instead struggles more at lower ride heights, resulting in an aerodynamic balance shift when this happens.
The new floor introduced in Miami had a more gradual leading edge. Personally, I’ve never been a proponent of abrupt shape changes, especially on the leading edge of something as influential as the underfloor.
The vertical splitters within that area divide the airflow volume being drawn out of the front corners of the floor, and determine how much flow is pulled along the car’s center by the diffuser. Hence, it would be quite easy to increase the spillage from the lower edge of these splitters and disrupt the vortices that emanate from the lower edge of those splitters.
These vortices reinvigorate the flow going to the diffuser, particularly in the underfloor’s throat area, so maintaining consistency in that area is crucial for consistent performance.
This is why it’s quite easy to talk about making the car more manageable and less peaky, but it’s more challenging to achieve if you lack a comprehensive understanding of your car’s underfloor aerodynamics.
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