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Features - 2010 Grand Prix Review

FEBRUARY 17, 2011

Ferrari: so near and yet so far

Fernando Alonso, Spanish GP 2010
© The Cahier Archive

Ferrari started well in 2010, lost its way a little and then finished strongly. Post British GP, nearly 50 points adrift, many thought it was merely bravado when Fernando Alonso said he was still aiming to win the championship. In the end he only missed out as a result of the strategic error in Abu Dhabi. The Ferrari was not quite a Red Bull but it was the next best car out there.

"We had the opportunity to have a complete rethink of the back end layout after 2009," says technical chief Aldo Costa. "We did various configurations of engine and gearbox positions and ended up with a tilted position, around 3.5 degrees, with a very narrow gearbox at the bottom which allowed us a lot of scope for development of the double diffuser.

"The performance gain from the layout had to be reasonable enough to justify the time loss for a raised centre of gravity and it was a pretty deep analysis to establish the threshold. We had a much more extreme configuration in the tunnel and what we ended up with was a compromise."

The team also found that with refuelling banned the fuel tank area packaging was a lot more difficult, with a long wheelbase necessary to optimise the packaging of radiators, etc.

"It was interesting to see unique solutions," Costa says. We had the tilted engine/gearbox and the wheel rim design, Red Bull had the blown exhaust, McLaren had the blown rear wing, so there was novelty in all the leading cars. We were already working on the blown diffuser but weren't ready to race it, but we didn't think about the blown rear wing.

"We did the F-duct first because the blown diffuser was more difficult, not only as an aerodynamic concept but it was also more intrusive for the car layout, more demanding in terms of temperature generation, wishbone protection, floor protection, bodywork protection and with longer lead time components.

"Running the dyno to verify and develop an exhaust is a bigger project with a longer lead time. We saw the Red Bull at the end of February in Barcelona and our first one came at Valencia in June. Ourselves and Renault were first after Red Bull and it worked straight away but we hadn't wanted to rush it, we wanted to deeply understand and analyse the system and be sure that when we went on the track we had a positive result. You can't test so it was very difficult. We played conservative with the first solution in some aspects of the installation and by the time we went to Japan, still chasing the championship obviously, we were on our fourth iteration of the exhaust system since Valencia.

Ferrari also did a three-piece front wing for Silverstone and although the front wing has a fundamental influence on the whole car, this was a separate aero programme from the blown floor. The team had plenty experience of a two plane wing but this was something of a new departure. It was aimed primarily at the high-speed types of circuit and the team found good gains.

"We crash-tested a new gearbox in July," Costa explains. "It was organised to have a new generation double diffuser when both drivers had the possibility to run the new gearbox. That gearbox ran earlier with Fernando without the new diffuser. There were several diffuser steps pre-planned and we had to swap to a different main case at the correct time for the diffuser evolution. The internals were the same.

Performance-wise, the team suffered a bit of drop-off around Turkey.

"When you have a project like a blown exhaust you dedicate a lot of resource to it and something suffers," Costa admits. "Other teams maybe developed more traditional parts and waited longer for their blown floors and F duct. We decided to do vice versa and started both projects immediately. In Barcelona and Turkey we had the new blown wing, our first iteration, but probably didn't fully understand a couple of areas. I think it was under-performing in those two races and combined with not having any other developments at that time, it meant that we slipped. Once we understood, we modified and improved it. From Canada we started to have quite a big package of other developments at every race because we'd done the wing and floor by then."

The team was getting mixed tyre feedback from Alonso and Massa.

"It depended on driver style and behaviour in terms of how capable they were of warming up the tyre," Costa says. "There were drivers with less problem warming up the hard tyre than others, but then maybe they didn't like the soft that much because of overheating reasons or a moving sensation. Conversely, others preferred the higher grip of the soft and accepted this moving sensation and didn't like the hard because in damp or cold conditions at some circuits they were struggling with warm-up. We'd paid more attention in the past to saving the tyre, being gentle with it. That was no secret and we saw it in Singapore -- we built a gap with the soft tyre but it disappeared on the hard. Other cars were the opposite."

Ferrari also did a lot of brake development. At circuits hard on them they were strong -- Canada, Monza, Singapore - and the brake system and performance was an F60 strong point. But they struggled more than Red Bull on tracks like Barcelona, Turkey and Budapest.

"The arrival of Fernando - a two-time champion who'd driven with big teams was a very big positive," Costa states. "It took him very little time to settle in, it was like he'd been here 10 years. It was black and white, like a switch. As soon as we started working with him there were no issues at all and he was the most positive guy in the team -- always pushing, always optimistic. He was a real asset - in the car and outside it."

Alonso, of course, is still with Ferrari and the early signs from Pirelli testing suggest that an ability to look after the soft tyre could be crucial in 2011. Ferrari, therefore, could have a very string hand in its bid to make up for their last hurdle disappointment of 2010.