In the 3rd year of the current V6 regulations, any threat to Mercedes has failed to materialize. However as Ferrari showed in 2015, the Silver Arrows are supreme but not infallible, hence the emphasis on the chassis in the current engine dominant era is not lost.
Following their 2015 success, Ferrari is widely speculated to take the competition to the German team but with strategical blunders the opportunities have not yet been converted into a win while the other team that can do so is Red Bull with their strong chassis equipped now with an upgraded Renault engine that has closed down considerably the gulf in the performance.
But away from the battles on the front, McLaren has fallen to the lower rungs of the grid since it decided to pair with Honda in 2015. From being dead last the team has crawled back to the midfield on the basis of gains made in the chassis area while the engine gains have been slow.
This prompted me to dive into the technical analysis of these 3 teams as they represent a great deal of variety. While Ferrari makes its own engine and chassis, Red Bull works in a close nexus with Renault to produce its cars and McLaren having a dog of an engine in Honda is pumping everything it has into its chassis to be competitive.
Come 2016 Ferrari didn’t have to do much more to catch Mercedes, yet at the start of the season, Ferrari introduced plenty of changes on the SF16-H including many ideas seen elsewhere in the field.
Buoyed by their progress from 2014 to 2015 triumphing the mighty Mercedes thrice in the process, Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne gave a coded warning to his team stating that should the team go ten years without winning a title it would be ‘a tragedy’. The last addition to their trophy cabinet was eight years ago, so the clock is ticking. But looking at how the year is panning out, heads are expected to roll at the Italian table, come the year-end. But that does not discredit the raft of changes introduced to this year’s challenger.
Ferrari’s SF16-H (H for hybrid) is a wholesale departure from its predecessor in many areas. Ferrari has made huge progress since the disaster of 2014 and last year’s car had no obvious flaws, other than lacking the last ounce of outright pace against Mercedes.
Fundamentally, what Ferrari has done with the latest car is to revise the under-nose airflow and repackage the rear for aerodynamic benefit.
Changes at the front were widely predicted, and the nose and suspension layout bring Ferrari into line with the rest of the field.
The nose has been shortened considerably, following the Williams-esque wedge shape, with a protruding thumb at its tip.
As rumoured during the off-season, Ferrari ditched the long nose philosophy they stuck to throughout last year and switched to a short, thumb-tip style snout. With the crash structure now scaled back to hang just over the trailing edge of the front wing main plane, there is now more room for the aerodynamicists to play with.
Another effect of the front aero clean-up is the switch from pull rod to pushrod actuation for the suspension. Now the rod goes from low down near the wheel to high up near the monocoque. This is not to cure the understeer that many associate with the Ferrari, but is an aero lead solution. The team has stated that aero was the primary reason, followed by weight and lastly kinematics.
The repositioned pull rod means the wishbones are revised, with the lower wishbone still being a conjoined design as first seen on the Mercedes and copied by Ferrari last year.
Although closed off, the front axles and brake ducts are the blown type as raced for most of 2015. The large diameter wheel nuts are the clue to the oversized axle hiding an internal duct to blow air through the open end for an outwash effect on the airflow passing around the front tyre.
Around the cockpit, small changes have been made. The higher, stronger cockpit sides and rear-facing FIA safety camera are regulatory changes, while the roll hoop inlet is slightly different to last year, losing its distinctive triangular shape for a more rounded one.
Behind the roll hoop, the mid wing that has been fitted to the Ferrari for over a year remains, but its inverted shape is more pronounced and the spine of the engine cover is cut away to allow the aero effect of the mid wing to work on the airflow passing towards the rear wing.
Ferrari has retained their angled radiator layout for 2016 and still managed to shrink the side of the side pod inlets slightly. This cuts drag and improves the quality of the airflow passing around the side pod undercut that travels back towards the rear diffuser.
It appears the side pods are an evolution of last year’s compact design, with near horizontal radiators placed inside the bodywork aided by slats and louvers to improve efficiency at the radiator cores. This keeps the side pods low and sleek.
At the front, the vanes around the side pod fronts are revised, It’s obvious the rear bodywork is narrower due to the bulges to clear the engine and gearbox. The side pod outlets then widen and encompass the top rear wishbones – this streamlines the suspension and keeps the rest of the side pod’s tail super-narrow.
More power unit changes have manifested themselves in the exhaust area. Last year Ferrari had a sizeable wastegate mounted over the gearbox and its tailpipe merged into the exhaust’s main tailpipe.
Now the rules demand separate wastegate pipes and the Ferrari has two pipes running below the main tailpipe. The wastegate has clearly been repositioned as the old cooling inlet on the spine of the engine cover has been removed.
Rumours suggest the MGUs have been repackaged from behind the engine to further forward it, with the trademark turbo intercooler in the engine’s ‘V’ repositioned to make space for the MGU-H here and to allow a large inlet plenum with variable length inlets inside. This can only be guesswork for now, as again for the third year running Ferrari has released no engine imagery – a strange practice for a team normally so proud of its engines.
Such a wholesale change in aero and power unit set-up is a double-edged sword. Yes, the design is now far more conventional compared to the rest of the field so the ideas are well-proven, but equally with change comes risk in pace and reliability something that has been more than apparent for the Maranello based squad this year.