How Ferrari's season-long pain highlights the F1 2021 engine task

When Ferrari was unable to upgrade its power unit throughout last season, it was stuck with a major deficit all year. With an engine freeze rule in place for this season, Ferrari's situation acts as a warning to the Formula 1 grid on getting this year's engine right from the start, JONATHAN NOBLE explains

How Ferrari's season-long pain highlights the F1 2021 engine task

Ferrari endured its fair share of pain in Formula 1 last year when a down-on-power engine left Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel struggling against their rivals.

But while the extent of the Maranello team's troubles were evident in pre-season testing, it was actually a COVID-19-related rule change that sealed its fate for the entire campaign.

As part of the cost saving measures introduced to help F1 survive the pandemic-triggered financial crisis, a series of limitations were imposed on car and power unit upgrades.

One of those was the imposition of an engine freeze, which meant that the specification of power unit used at the start of the season was the only one that could be used for the remainder of the year.

It meant that even though Ferrari knew what improvements it needed to make to regain lost horsepower, there was nothing that could be done during the season to address the deficit.

Speaking at the end of last year, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that if the rules had been completely open, then his team would have brought engine upgrades as a priority.

"If, in 2020, we would not have been frozen, I think the power unit would be the first one that we would try to address during the season," he said.

"And I think we would have had an upgrade certainly in 2020 before coming to the 2021. I think that the upgrade we may have had would have been at least sufficient not to be the worst power unit in the field."

The experience that Ferrari went through last year, effectively having its hands tied in terms of what it could do, is a warning about the stresses that F1 engine manufacturers face in 2021 to get it right straight away.

The engine freeze rule remains in place, so the specification that is used for the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix will be the one that must be stuck with for the full campaign. There will be no second chance to address any shortfall.

Mercedes technical director James Allison was clear last week that the power unit staff were facing a stressful winter and he said it was a 'significant challenge'.

"Quite aside from the fact that the push that the power unit company has to find more performance from their PU, and the intense effort behind that, they had to do it in a context of a rule environment where there is less opportunity for mistakes," he said.

"In years previously there were three discrete opportunities in the year where an upgrade to the PU could arrive. With each new PU you could have a different design and hopefully bring increasing performance with every power unit that you brought to the track.

"In 2021, you are allowed just one opportunity to put that performance upgrade on the track. So, you need to know that you can pile as much goodness into that upgrade as possible and then make it stick, because you just get that one shot at it.

"That really ramps up the pressure on the PU organisation to make sure that we get as much as possible from that single opportunity."

The situation could actually be quite critical to Red Bull's future as it awaits an answer from the F1 Commission about whether rival teams will support a complete engine freeze from 2022 to 2025.

The Milton Keynes-based team has a provisional agreement in place with Honda to take over the Japanese manufacturer's project when it pulls out of F1 at the end of the year.

But the deal can only go ahead if there is a freeze on development for next year, as Red Bull cannot afford the huge R&D costs that would come from needing to bring engine upgrades.

The situation is quite complicated because Renault plans to introduce a new engine for 2022, so does not want to have to change its own plans to suit an early freeze.

Some form of compromise looks likely to be agreed in the end, but it means that, with no scope for development of its own power unit from Bahrain 2021 until new rules come into force, Red Bull's short-term fate in F1 faces a defining moment in terms of how it goes in the first races of the forthcoming season.

The job that Honda has done this winter to close the gap to Mercedes will therefore be especially critical - although the messages coming out of the company's factory are quite encouraging.

Asked about what the indications were from Japan at the end of last year, Verstappen said: "Yeah, they're very positive, but I know also that the other teams are not standing still. They are also really working hard to improve. Hopefully, of course, we can close the gap a bit. But we'll find out."

With the countdown under way to the first test and race in Bahrain, it's not just the new cars that are going to be under scrutiny - because how the engines fare early on will be decisive in the battles ahead.

And Ferrari's season-long pain last year is a valuable lesson about the price that can be paid if you do not get things spot on at the start.

shares
comments
Why are Formula 1 drivers the sportspeople hit hardest by COVID-19?
Previous article

Why are Formula 1 drivers the sportspeople hit hardest by COVID-19?

Next article

Norris: Ricciardo's race-winning experience in F1 can take McLaren forward

Norris: Ricciardo's race-winning experience in F1 can take McLaren forward
Why it's Red Bull that really leads a three-way fight so far at Silverstone Plus

Why it's Red Bull that really leads a three-way fight so far at Silverstone

After a slow start to Friday at Silverstone, all the Formula 1 teams had to effectively cram in a day’s worth of practice into one hour. But there was still plenty to learn and while Ferrari topped the times, a three-way battle is brewing ahead of the British Grand Prix

Why the future is bright for the British GP Plus

Why the future is bright for the British GP

It wasn’t so long ago the situation looked bleak at Silverstone with the future of the British Grand Prix under threat. But a transformation has seen it restored to one of the most important races on the Formula 1 calendar, with bigger and better to come

Formula 1
Jul 1, 2022
Could mixed fortunes for F1's leading Brits turn around at Silverstone? Plus

Could mixed fortunes for F1's leading Brits turn around at Silverstone?

For the first time in many years, none of the local racers starts among the favourites for the British Grand Prix. But George Russell, Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris could have reasons for optimism

Formula 1
Jun 30, 2022
Verstappen exclusive: Why F1’s champion isn’t fazed by Silverstone return Plus

Verstappen exclusive: Why F1’s champion isn’t fazed by Silverstone return

Max Verstappen is the world’s number one racing driver… and he’s determined to keep it that way. Speaking exclusively to GP Racing's OLEG KARPOV, the Red Bull driver explains why he’s relishing the 2022 championship battle with Charles Leclerc – and why he’s not worried about returning to Silverstone, the scene of the biggest accident of his career last year

Formula 1
Jun 30, 2022
Why Red Bull’s RB17 hypercar can help its F1 team Plus

Why Red Bull’s RB17 hypercar can help its F1 team

On Tuesday, Red Bull laid out its plans to develop and build a new hypercar - the RB17 - penned by Adrian Newey. As the project itself sates Newey as a creative outlet, it also offers Red Bull's Formula 1 team a number of new and exciting avenues to pursue

Formula 1
Jun 29, 2022
What to expect from Mercedes as F1 returns to Silverstone Plus

What to expect from Mercedes as F1 returns to Silverstone

OPINION: The British Grand Prix is a home event for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, with their Mercedes team based just a few miles away too. But there’s another reason why the Silver Arrows squad is eager to arrive at Silverstone this weekend, which may help it fix its remaining problems with its 2022 Formula 1 challenger

Formula 1
Jun 29, 2022
The “solemn promise” that cost quiet hero Brooks an F1 title Plus

The “solemn promise” that cost quiet hero Brooks an F1 title

After two terrifying crashes, one of the best British racers of the 1950s retired before his career peaked. But that’s why GP Racing’s MAURICE HAMILTON was able to speak to Tony Brooks in 2014. Like his friend Stirling Moss, Brooks was regarded as one of the best drivers never to have won the world championship. Here, as our tribute to Brooks who died last month, is that interview in full

Formula 1
Jun 27, 2022
Inside the Faenza facility where AlphaTauri’s F1 pragmatic vision is realised Plus

Inside the Faenza facility where AlphaTauri’s F1 pragmatic vision is realised

AlphaTauri’s mission in F1 is to sell clothes and train young drivers rather than win the championship – but you still need a cutting-edge factory to do that. Team boss Franz Tost takes GP Racing’s OLEG KARPOV on a guided tour of a facility that’s continuing to grow

Formula 1
Jun 26, 2022