Ferrari have made ‘radical’ changes to their 2016 power unit, the headlines scream. So should the tifosi be ecstatic or dismayed? This all despite claims by Sebastian Vettel last November that, “the rules are not changing dramatically. So technically it will be more of an evolution of the current car.”
Let’s first examine what exactly Ferrari are doing differently this year from the car design which saw them become Mercedes’ closest rival in 2015.
First up on the chassis there is a switch from a pull rod suspension system to the more commonly used push rod system. In recent years teams have almost universally used the push rod systems which are easier to fine tune given the location of the variable components. By previously using the pull rod system, the advantages to Ferrari were that this gives the car a lower centre of gravity, weight reduction though at the cost of some conditioning of the air flow off the front wing.
Interestingly, the suspension effects on the new Ferrari will change. In their old pull rod system, the arm flexes in droop (the wheel going down) whereas a push rod will flex with the wheel in bump (wheel going up), which may have been more forgiving for Sebastian Vettel during his off-roading over the kerbs at the 2015 Belgium GP.
According to F1.com, the new Ferrari will also have “a shorter nose (which falls somewhere between what Mercedes and Toro Rosso used in 2015), lower sidepods with a narrower ‘coke bottle’ rear end, and a narrower gearbox”.
These chassis design changes alone mean the 2016 F1 Ferrari will be radically different from its predecessor.
Ferrari, via Gorgio Piola, have released fairly detailed information on how they are to change their power unit. In fact only MGU-H remains in the same position as in 2015.
“Ferrari will follow Mercedes’ lead and adopt variable inlet trumpets (5) for the first time. This change, which will allow better tuning of the air/fuel mixture during combustion, is possible because the large intercooler (1, top drawing) used last year has been removed from the ‘V’ of the engine and replaced with two smaller intercooler elements (1, bottom drawing).
“Between them, these elements (one of which will be situated on top of the fuel tank and the other on the left sidepod) will ensure that the engine has the cooling needed to maximise its extra power.
To ensure that they can use a very narrow gearbox – a potential advantage aerodynamically – Ferrari have moved the MGU-K (3) and placed it low down on left side of the engine (as it is in all other manufacturers’ units). The new oil tank (4) meanwhile is both lower and wider than before, offering a potential improvement to the car’s centre of gravity, while the clutch (6) is no longer in the engine but inside the gearbox bellhousing”.
Clearly Ferrari are pulling out all the stops and it’s no exaggeration describing Maranello’s 2016 offering as ‘radical’. But ‘revolution rather than evolution’ hasn’t always turned out well in Formula One history.
McLaren decided to build a revolutionary MP4-28 for 2013 after finishing the previous year with undeniably the quickest car. The result saw Martin Whitmarsh sacked and the team finishing fifth in the constructors’ championship that year and have yet to recover from a three year run that is the worst in their F1 history.
Ferrari themselves introduced what they described as the radical F2012 – unsurprisingly in 2012 – with the pull rod front suspension system not seen in F1 since the 2001 Minardi. As part of the new suspension package it was reported that Ferrari had developed a “reactive ride height” suspension system, which mechanically maintained the ride height under braking. However, the FIA ruled the system illegal and whilst Ferrari finished the season in second place, their car was widely accepted to be the third quickest, behind Red Bull and McLaren.
After winning their first ever race in 2008, BMW Sauber apparently ‘shocked’ the paddock with their revolutionary offering for 2009. The F1.09 made a promising start to the season, as Robert Kubica lying second was hunting down the race leader before he crashed out of the race. The ‘unlucky’ Nick Heidfeld finished second in Malaysia but after these highlights it was all downhill for the car. The drivers regularly struggled to make Q2 and although the F1.09 improved towards the end of the year, BMW had suffered enough and withdrew from the sport.
Of course ‘radical’ has been successful in Formula One. Colin Chapman’s rear engine Lotus revolutionised the sport as did the monocoque designed Lotus 25, however these kind of big ideas are much more unlikely today given the highly prescriptive nature of the design regulations.
At times radical is unavoidable when big design regulations occur, as with the new V6 hybrid turbo power units. Yet in modern F1 a more conservative evolutionary approach to car design is more often the norm.
That said, if Ferrari have found a ‘silver bullet’, maybe even a six shooter full of them, then there will be no complaints from the fans nor from Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen.