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How Ferrari took a look at the map to avoid getting lost with 2022 F1 car

On the face of it, the past few months have not been good for the Ferrari Formula 1 team, certainly in terms of race performances.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Indeed, the last grand prix victory came in Austria back in July, and all seven races held since then, starting with France, have been won by Red Bull Racing.

Meanwhile, the Maranello cars have continued to demonstrate the strong qualifying pace that has been evident since the start of the year, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz logging four poles between them over those seven events.

The team has been frustrated to see any hopes of winning either of the 2022 world championship titles slip inexorably away as Max Verstappen and RBR piled up the points.

However, there’s also the bigger picture of building up momentum for next season. And despite the short-term disappointments, the race weekends since the summer break have given the team some confidence as it works on its 2023 project. In effect, it’s been a period of taking stock.

“It's been crucial to confirm that we're going in the right direction,” says senior performance engineer Jock Clear. “And as soon as you have these question marks over, ‘okay, have we gone the wrong way in set-up?’, you have to be quite brave.

“You've got to understand where you are, you can't afford to just carry on. It's a bit like if you're lost, the last thing you should be doing is just barrelling down the road saying, ‘let's see what happens later.’ Stop and look at the map. And that's what we did. We stopped and looked at the map.

“And you might say that cost us some valuable race performance over those five races. But it would be unwise not to do that, because the future is always there.

“You can never ignore the fact that you must keep on top of exactly which direction you're developing in. And we did that. We stopped, we looked at the map. And now we've confirmed that we're going in the right direction.”

Ferrari F1-75 floor detail

Ferrari F1-75 floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Part of that review was apparent in the regular swapping in practice between the updated floor introduced at Paul Ricard and the earlier version. It was a matter of the team checking that it was on the right path rather than being confused.

“We looked at the overall situation,” says Clear. “And obviously, it's a relative sport. You look at where you are, and you think it looks like you've stepped back a bit from France. And the obvious thing we put on in France was the floor.

“So we put the previous floor back on the car. And actually, we've concluded that the new floor was better. So we went back to it.

“So yeah, we did a bit of an A/B, A/B, A/B just to confirm that we hadn't put something on the car that wasn't working. But actually, that floor worked fine.”

The team is continuing to push ahead with development, and another new floor was used on the cars in Japan. The bad weather over the weekend clouded the issue somewhat, but the consensus was that it worked as it was supposed to.

“This floor was available in Singapore,” says Clear. “But it's a floor that's producing a lot of high-speed downforce, basically. And so it wasn't particularly applicable in Singapore. It's not hugely different. And I think unless you lay the two side-by-side, which we're not going to let you do, then you're not really going to notice the detail!

“And to be brutally honest, it's expensive. You've come this far around the world with new parts. And obviously, we had to bring all the old parts as well in case it didn't work. You've got to be pretty confident. And we were very confident that this was going the right way.

“It's working. And the proof is in the pudding. I think we expected Red Bull to be very strong [at Suzuka]. Spa is a similar circuit, and they gave us a bit of a whooping there. And we were very pleased to be as close as we were [in Japanese GP qualifying].

“In fact, we were very frustrated not to be on pole, because pole was there for the taking really, for either of our drivers.”

Jock Clear, Senior Performance Engineer, Ferrari

Jock Clear, Senior Performance Engineer, Ferrari

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Clear expects the Suzuka floor to be in use for the rest of the season: “I mean, you look at the circuits that are to come, they're all going to benefit from a certain amount of high speed.

“This floor, as I say, was available in Singapore. But that circuit is a bit Monaco-esque. All the races from now on, this floor will suit.”

New parts continue to come through, although don’t expect to see anything too revolutionary in the final events of the season.

“By this time in the year, race 17 or 18, or whatever we are, you're looking at the fine-tuning now, really,” says Clear. “And obviously, we're in a situation where the championship is very much a challenge to now maintain P2.

“Obviously, we want to come to races and win, so the motivation is still there to bring development, and you can't stop developing. You can't say let's save our money for next year, because you need to just keep turning the wheel.”

While there have been some tweaks to the floor rules to combat porpoising, pretty much anything introduced in 2022 is also valuable preparation for the 2023 project. It’s always better to test things on track if you can.

“The development is organic,” says Clear. “Because all the teams are already looking very much at next year. And obviously we want to be as competitive, if not more so, next year. And the moment these F1 cars stop running at the end of November, you're back in the tunnel, you're back in the simulator, but that's not quite the same.

“So we really need to maximise these last few races, from the point of view of developing and bringing the car to another level. Yes, we know that the championship is a very long shot now. But we've got to stay ahead of Mercedes, and so we'll be happy to bring performance to do that.

“But also just keep generating more and more organic development. And that will give us confidence going into next year.”

Speaking of confidence, it says a lot that Ferrari has stuck with its basic aero concept and not switched tack. The team still believes in its original ideas.

“Absolutely, especially after the big hullabaloo in pre-season testing,” says Clear. “And of course, the moment we heard about the Mercedes ‘no pods’ before they even arrived, obviously aero departments up and down the pitlane were panicking and throwing sidepods off the car and going, ‘Oh my God, the Mercedes is going to be a second a lap quicker than us!

“And of course, the moment it rolled out in Bahrain, we were like, ‘Okay, we have done the right thing.’ The job of all of us F1 engineers is to look at what other people are doing and say, ‘Has somebody found something?’

“But I think very, very quickly, our aero department was confident that we've gone down the right route. And clearly we have. We're a slightly different solution to Red Bull. But I think you've seen that the general DNA of the Red Bull and the Ferrari are different.

“So we're not going to chase their sidepod solution, simply because that probably isn't going to work for our car, in the same way that they haven't chased ours, because the two teams have come at it from slightly different directions.”

Also encouraging for Ferrari is that power unit reliability appears to have been improved in recent races, at least on the works cars, after some early season frustrations. That certainly bodes well for 2023.

“We've seen all the teams have probably challenged themselves, let's say, in their decisions on how brave they go with engines,” says Clear. “And we've seen all the engine manufacturers are going over the numbers that were originally within the regulations, and we're taking penalties for it.

“But I think that's a decision all the engine manufacturers have made, because you simply have to develop, and you can bring reliability. Purely from a motivational point of view for the whole team, if you've got a powerful engine that needs a bit of reliability, everybody's very happy to work on that.

“If you've got a reliable engine but haven't got any power in it, people tend to lose faith! So I think we've made the right decision. And I think a similar decision to the other engine manufacturers. And again, we're happy that's all starting to settle out.”

A consistent aero philosophy and a strong PU are good foundations for a 2023 title challenge, but they are just part of the package. What’s also very obviously needed is the sort of near-faultless performance in the garage and on the pitwall that RBR used as a springboard to success this year - and that might be the hardest thing to get right.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

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