Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Tech verdict: How Ferrari really turned the tables on rivals

Ferrari turned the tables on its Formula 1 rivals since the summer break, not only taking victories at low-downforce tracks where expectations were high, but also at races where they were expected to be on the backfoot. The result in Russia may not have swung in its direction, but the signs are there that it will be able to fight Mercedes more often at the remaining races this season.

Tech verdict: How Ferrari really turned the tables on rivals

The SF90, with the new higher downforce package, made a big leap forward and while the aerodynamic upgrade will clearly have resulted in some additional drag, it’s been able to exploit superior power unit performance to overcome this and retain a top speed advantage relative to Mercedes.

This came as a blow to the Silver Arrows, whose Spec-3 update has failed to live up to expectations and requires that it operates below its upper thresholds in order to maintain reliability. Ferrari, who already held the trump card in terms of outright power, added more performance with its new specification power unit in Italy and continued to exploit it in the subsequent rounds.

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The impressive thing is that it’s been able to unlock performance across the board, giving the upper hand during the race and another marginal boost in performance for qualifying too. Charles Leclerc has reaped the reward of this qualifying boost, taking four pole positions in the last four races, indicating that there’s some margin to be gained from setup and driving style.

The most important factor, and perhaps one that’s being overlooked, is that the aerodynamic update implemented by Ferrari means the team is now able to trigger tyre performance in a way it couldn’t before. It appears that the Scuderia was unable to generate enough heat in the front tyres before, meaning it had to operate in a much narrower working window, reducing tyre performance and lifespan relative to their competitors.

It would also appear that Ferrari’s overall concept, taking into account the change in aerodynamic regulations for 2019, had not accounted for Pirelli’s thinner gauge rubber – the tyre supplier reducing the tyres tread by 0.4mm, as it did for several rounds in 2018. The updates introduced in Singapore sought to overturn its lower speed weaknesses, but even Ferrari didn’t think the car would respond as well as it actually has to them.

Here are the changes that boosted Ferrari’s form; click on the arrows to scroll through the images…

Ferrari SF90, front wing comparison

Ferrari SF90, front wing comparison
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The update centres on a solution that we’ve seen proliferate the grid since Mercedes first utilised the concept at the start of 2017 – an under-nose cape. In Ferrari’s case it has added their cape to the previous nose structure, doing away with the elongated and slotted wing pillars (inset) in the process.

Ferrari SF90, nose underside

Ferrari SF90, nose underside
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The sled-like structure not only influences the airflow’s path downstream, further amplifying key aerodynamic structures such as the bargeboards, but also repositions the car's aerodynamic centre of pressure (CoP), putting it a little more 'on the nose', which is likely aided by the dividing keel under the nose in yaw.

Ferrari SF90, floor

Ferrari SF90, floor
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

To take advantage of the newfound front-end performance, and to balance and improve flow stability around the rear end of the car, the team stiffened the slots on the edge of the floor, incorporating metal inserts in the areas that are prone to flex. Fluctuations in the slot gaps would have previously led to compromised performance, which in-turn would reduce the effectiveness of the tyre squirt slots ahead of the rear tyre (highlighted in yellow).

Ferrari SF90 rear diffuser detail

Ferrari SF90 rear diffuser detail
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari also took this as an opportunity to revisit a diffuser development that was tested in France but didn’t deliver the performance uplift that was anticipated. The changes centre on the Gurney-style flaps that populate the periphery of the upper and outer sections of the diffuser.

Mercedes plays the longer game

While the resurgence of Ferrari over the last few races has added to the spectacle, and brings us hope of a better or closer end to the 2019 season, Mercedes is already eyeing gains it may be able to make for 2020.

Mercedes AMG F1 W10 front suspension detail

Mercedes AMG F1 W10 front suspension detail
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The regulations will remain relatively stable for 2020, but we will see a change from Pirelli in how the tyres deliver their performance and teams will have to adjust accordingly. With this in mind, Mercedes, which has been at the forefront of hydraulic suspension elements since before the hybrid era, has begun testing a revised ‘heave’ element.

Red Bull Ring RB 14, front suspension

Red Bull Ring RB 14, front suspension
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The solution Mercedes is testing has seen continuous use by other teams throughout the last few years, like Red Bull.

Red Bull slips off the pace

Although magnified by Ferrari’s sudden turn of speed, Red Bull has fallen back to third place in the pecking order – despite races at tracks where it was expected to excel and repeat its form before the summer break.

Red Bull RB15 bargeboard comparison, Russian GP

Red Bull RB15 bargeboard comparison, Russian GP
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull has fallen a little behind its rivals partly due to the power unit penalties, and partly due to the rate of development being made around them. However, in Singapore the team applied an update of its own, reprofiling the leading edge of the bargeboards and exposing the splitter to more flow.

Red Bull Racing RB15 diffuser detail

Red Bull Racing RB15 diffuser detail
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This was paired with a change at the rear of the car, as the team added two slots in the base of the two innermost strakes while making a novel change to innermost strake (white arrow) as it tilted it from the vertical.
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