Ferrari were a pleasant surprise in the opening race of the season in Bahrain at the weekend, with Charles Leclerc qualifying “best of the rest” on Saturday, behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and the Mercedes’ cars.
With the first race of the season done and dusted, we can begin to analyse some of the data to form a better picture of where each team stands and draw some conclusions from their technical developments.
Firstly, it is clear that what we saw in the tests was confirmed over the weekend in Sakhir, with Ferrari’s SF21 an improvement over the disastrous SF1000 in terms of both power and aerodynamic efficiency.
Although Ferrari weren’t quickest, the speed trap data shows they have made some gains over 2020, with Leclerc posting a top speed of 314km/h – seven km/h quicker than he managed last year.
It is true that during the weekend the wind was in favour on the main straight, but compared to last year Ferrari is practically on a par with its rivals, and the acceleration curve does not rise suddenly, as happened at the beginning of last season.
Having the additional horsepower of the 065/6 Power Unit, estimated at around 30HP, also allows drivers and engineers to bring a more loaded car to the track in the wings, just as happened in Bahrain.
Last year Ferrari had to decide between adding downforce (and therefore drag) or aiming for higher top speed by cutting downforce by running smaller wings – they almost always opted for the latter which contributed to an unstable rear-end.
Even then, the SF1000 was almost always at the bottom of the speed trap and as a result, was also slow through medium to high speed corners.
We have seen the aerodynamic work on the SF21 aimed at recovering aerodynamic efficiency by cutting drag without losing too much downforce.
On the SF21, Enrico Cardile (head of the Ferrari chassis department) and his team have focused on minimising the loss of downforce dictated by new regulations at the bottom and diffuser, as well as significantly reducing the drag of the 2020 car. In these terms, Ferrari in Bahrain was the one that lost the least in terms of performance compared to last year, as can be seen from the comparison between the times in qualifying.
Obviously it’s not been an easy task due to the freezing of components, which does not allow fora great general upheaval of the cars between 2020 and 2021. Spending the two tokens for the modification of the gearbox, Ferrari intervened on its own single-seater to review the rear in general, especially at the aerodynamic level: The loss of downforce at the rear, due to the new regulations, resulted in intervention aimed at trying to tighten the lower part of the car around the gearbox, generating better aerodynamic penetration.
The cut floor is quite simple in aerodynamic design, especially when compared to more extreme solutions from Mercedes and Aston Martin. However, Ferrari has significantly improved the instability at the rear of the old SF1000, and it seems that the new regulations have not affected the balance as much as on other cars (see for example the Mercedes problems).
The new floor has some interesting interventions (already seen in the tests) including vertical strips between the side wall of the diffuser, and the inside of the rear wheel. The aim steer airflow away from the wheel which would otherwise generate turbulence.
The Ferrari SF21, while having delivered sufficient performance in Bahrain, still has some work to do in fully recovering the vertical load lost under the new regulations. The diffuser, for example, is quite simple, and does not adopt aggressive solutions such as on the McLaren.
On the MCL35M the new diffuser has been applauded. It has internal drifts that go beyond the maximum limit allowed by the regulation (from 2021 more than 50mm from the reference plane). However, cunningly, McLaren has positioned the internal fins in the range of the central 500mm, within which it is possible to go beyond the minimum dimensions of the drifts imposed by the regulation. All this is valid, as long as the elements make up one with the internal wall of the diffuser.
Let’s see a direct comparison between the Mercedes solution and the McLaren one.
Beyond the new aerodynamic regulations, Ferrari has refined a large part of its aerodynamics in order to recover speed, even with micro-aerodynamic interventions.
This is especially noticeable from the column flow deviators in the area of the cooling vents, where since the launch we have noticed a blow hole inside the carbon element. This reduces the out-wash effect of the flow diverter, but allows a reduction in resistance.
Ferrari has done what has been possible in aerodynamic terms. In the front area, for example, it was not possible to adopt the much requested narrow Mercedes-style nose, which allows for less impact with the air.
The aerodynamics of Maranello, while maintaining the front crash structure approved last year, have worked a lot on the front of the SF21, where the aerodynamics around the nose cone have been radically changed.
In fact, the pillars are narrower, to accelerate the flow of air under the body, with the aid of a large cape under the nose. At the same time, the section between the pylon and the wing spoiler has increased, so as to increase the passage of airflow.
For Imola, the prospect of receiving aerodynamic updates on the SF21 is quite certain, also given the long break preceding the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. Once the efficiency has been found, and the correlation between tunnel data and the track, Ferrari can safely continue the development of its car, presumably from here until June. After that, the focus could be more on the 2022 car, where everyone will start from a blank sheet of paper.