Ferrari has learned from its mistakes from the 2020 epidemic year. Despite homologation, the SF21 was a much better race car than its predecessor. Race Director Laurent Meckies looks back and ahead to the 2022 season.
Ferrari has completed the second season in a row without a win. The last time this happened to the oldest team in Formula 1 was between 1991 and 1993. And yet Ferrari looks back with satisfaction on a season in which the downward trend of the 2020 season was stopped and reversed. Maranello must claim to be able to drive wins and titles, but third place in the World Championship was a success in a first step. "The battle for third place with McLaren sharpened our senses for when we're going to be back for the title," said race director Laurent Meckies.
After the 2020 season, there was only one direction for Ferrari. "We had deficits everywhere," Meckies admits in retrospect. "With the engine, the aerodynamics, the tire management. The correlation between the data and the race track was not right, the drivers did not have confidence in their car, which did not do what it was supposed to do. The preparation for the races did not go well, that is that we were always forced to react at the circuit."
Token in the rear chosen
With so many mistakes, Ferrari would have liked to turn everything upside down, but this was not possible due to the homologation of large parts of the car and the restrictions for the wind tunnel and engine test benches. "We had to think very carefully about where we put the development token. We did it with the gearbox housing and the rear axle. It was for the sake of a change in aerodynamics," reveals Meckies.
If Ferrari had had a free hand, they would have also touched the front part of the car, especially the nose, which is still relatively wide and bulky compared to Mercedes, Red Bull or McLaren. The pre-season test drives already showed that the Ferrari SF21 was better than the SF1000 in practically every area. The engine had more power, the car more downforce. The goals set were achieved in terms of aerodynamic efficiency and stability.
A significant step was taken with the engine, but it proved to be insufficient because Mercedes and Honda had made further gains. That was one of the reasons Ferrari upgraded its hybrid system from the Russian GP onwards. The gap is still not closed, but a step towards the best in class has been made again. "Especially in our category, it was extremely tight. Every tenth counted," recalls Meckies.
The drive upgrade is said to have brought about 0.15 seconds per lap. In addition, there was more freedom when setting up the vehicle, because you no longer had to flatten the wings for top speed than was actually necessary. Especially in the race, where the drive provided more electric power over a longer period of time.At the end of the season, no other drive unit started charging as late as in the Ferrari.
Mystery of high tire wear
The car was better in slow corners than in fast ones. This is underlined by Charles Leclerc's two pole positions in Monte Carlo and Baku and Carlos Sainz's second grid position in Sochi. The SF21 also generated sufficient tire temperature on routes with predominantly slow corners. That may also have been one of the reasons for the weakness of the car. "We often had higher tire wear than our opponents," admits Meckies.
Ferrari was hit particularly hard at the French GP. Both drivers finished, but neither made it into the top ten. Leclerc and Sainz were overwhelmed by the competition in the final laps. "We put an incredible amount of work into solving the problem and into our simulation tools. It was all about the question of how we can better manage the energy that is put into the tires," emphasizes Meckies, but also admits: "We've improved in this area, but we're still not happy with it. Especially on tracks where the front tire is the limiting factor, we struggled regardless of the tire compound."
Ferrari recorded a high level of material wear in the past season. Leclerc and Sainz ended up in the guard rails ten times when pushing the limit, with correspondingly high accident costs. According to Meckies, this was not a sign that the SF21 was difficult to drive at the limit. "We encouraged our drivers to explore the limits. Because the competition between the two helps us progress. There was relatively little development on the car this year. We were better able to live with accidents in terms of budget. That will be different in 2022 We need all the money for vehicle development."
More upgrades than 2021, less than 2019
Keyword 2022. Meckies expects visible differences in the cars in the first draft, despite significantly less freedom for the engineers. "After six weeks it will be less and by 2023 the cars will be pretty much the same. The window of what is feasible is simply much smaller than it is today."
The restart is a great opportunity for everyone to improve, but also to slip again. The expectations are high, but so is the tension. "We have no idea where we are compared to the others. There is no reference. In the beginning the loss of lap time was huge. We made up a lot of it, but no one knows if that's enough. You set it put the car on the road in Barcelona and hope it does what the simulations and the wind tunnel promise."
The main thing is to find a good balance between the fast and slow corners. With the Venturi principle, downforce increases much more with speed than is the case with the current concept.Meckies concludes: "The cars will definitely be more difficult to drive. It will depend a lot on the driver how they adapt to it. We are well equipped with Charles and Carlos. Both reach their destination in different ways. Everyone is on their own own way fast."
Next year the budget cap will play an even bigger role. Because it limits teams' ability to react to design and development errors. "There is less money available for mid-season development because the overall budget has also shrunk," says Meckies. His forecast: "We will see more upgrades than in the 2021 season, but also less than in 2018 or 2019."