Three races in, and Ferrari have still to score a decent haul of points along with a victory over Mercedes, much to the disappointment of many Formula 1 fans. The thought of yet another Mercedes dominating the season is frankly too much to bear for most.
In winter testing, Ferrari clearly was the strongest package on the time sheets, but also in the long run analysis. On the other hand, Mercedes turned up with a very basic car and upgraded it massively, a trend that has continued at every race since testing.
AMuS, Germany’s premier F1 source has some interesting figures and possible issues with the Ferrari car, one that might be preventing the Italians from bringing in upgrades faster than Mercedes.
In Australia, the Ferrari were surprisingly off pace and yes, in Bahrain Ferrari should’ve won clearly. But for China Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc had no chance against the Mercedes. The gap in the race was an astonishing 0.244 seconds on the lap. But yet if you looked at the time sheets on Friday, the Ferrari’s were certainly in with a decent shout for qualifying and race pace. Indeed TJ13’s FP2 analysis even put Red Bull in the mix, with all three teams very close.
Just like Bahrain, Ferrari were hugely faster on the straights and just about kept their own through the slow corners. In China the the Ferrari’s gained 0.7 seconds from the full throttle straights, but was lost again in the corners. Indeed Friday suggested that the race would be a close one.
And yet on Saturday, Mercedes somehow halved the deficit on the straights, but defended their advantage in the slow corners. The result being a lead in the lap time. Why Ferrari’s dominance on the straights was halved overnight is a mystery, and certainly not one that can be explained easily by saying that Mercedes simply turned up their engine.
Not to say that Mercedes didn’t up their power for Q3, but AMuS believe that at the moment it is only possible twice a weekend due to cooling problems, and besides, Ferrari can normally counter that with their newest power unit – Bahrain proves that.
“We have a good car, but we’re not able to put it in the window yet to make it look good.” explains Vettel after the Chinese Grand Prix.
“We’re not where we’ve been during the tests yet.
“We didn’t have the speed of the Mercedes in China. But that’s nothing that shocks us. We just have to put our puzzle pieces together optimally.”
“We have to get the car into the window like Charles did in Bahrain. Mercedes seems to hit this window at the moment always and everywhere.” so it seem that Shanghai, just like Melbourne, demonstrates the weak areas of the Ferrari car.
Vettel concludes that “We now understand better what we need to make full use of our potential.
“It’s important to find the way we have to go in the next races.”
Team boss Binotta concurs saying: “We have, depending on the track, certain limitations.”
“A rear wing like the one from Mercedes is in the works.” he hints at the next update coming.
By mentioning the rear wing, Binotto fully admits then that the Ferrari package is lacking in overall downforce compared to the Mercedes, and it’s likely we’ll only see its debut in Barcelona because you’ll need a smaller wing for the next race in Baku.
The critical part of a new higher downforce rear wing, AMuS points out, is that it also requires a correction to the front wing so that the car can also be balanced. And that couldn’t be so easy with Ferrari’s low downforce, outwash front wing concept. Only Alfa Romeo has a similar design.
It is believed that this front wing concept might jeopardise the SF90’s chances of development over the season if the team are trying to increase overall downforce. Mercedes more traditional wing could offer more options.
Mercedes front wing concept not only directs air around the front wheels, but to also fire it over the top, meaning that their front wing naturally creates more front downforce. Ferrari’s purely outwash concept cannot generate downforce in the same manner.
AMuS also believes that Ferrari’s underachievement is more than just the rear wing. The loss of time in the slow corners is sometimes shocking as the SF90’s lap time can disappear completely.
In the fast corners Ferrari keeps up with Mercedes and Red Bull. Vettel suspects that the reason for the loss of grip in the tighter sections is tyre pressure or tyre temperature. The interaction of the new car with the new Pirelli rubbers is obviously not yet fully understood.
The observations of Mercedes engineers also point in this direction. “In Bahrain we couldn’t make up for the loss of time in the corners because Ferrari did ok in the corners.”
“Maybe because the long straights gave the tyres enough time to cool down…” the engineers guess
“In Melbourne and Shanghai, corner after corner follows, with the risk of the tyre overheating. If you then have more downforce like us, you are in a better position.
“If you add problems with the drive unit that force you to reduce power, you lose too much lap time”.