What's behind Ferrari Formula 1 team's grid cooling bag trick?

The Ferrari Formula 1 team's pre-race preparations at recent grands prix have prompted intrigue, with the team placing a cooling bag on top of its on-board camera

What's behind Ferrari Formula 1 team's grid cooling bag trick?

The bright yellow sack, believed to contain dry ice, has also been spotted on top of the car during pre-run preparations in the garage ahead of practice sessions and qualifying.

With no other teams using cooling bags in this manner, there has been debate over whether Ferrari has found a clever performance gains or is using the bag as a diversion tactic to take the focus off something else.

Ferrari's official explanation is that the bag cools the electronics in the on-board camera, but this has drawn a sceptical response as there have been no suggestions of the cameras overheating.

Some have suggested Ferrari could be using the cooling bag to try to alter the ambient temperature inside the airbox to provide a temporary boost to engine performance.

Earlier this year, F1's technical regulations changed to try to prevent teams from influencing airbox temperatures, amid fears that efforts could be made to super-cool air for better performance.

Article 5.6.8 of the 2018 regulations states that engine plenum temperatures must now be more than 10 degrees higher than ambient temperature.

There are some exceptions, as the rules state that the temperature does not have to be above this limit at all times of the event.

"The first lap of the race, laps carried out whilst the safety car is deployed, pit in and out laps and any laps that are obvious anomalies (as judged by the technical delegate) will not be used to assess the average temperature," states the F1 rulebook.

Could Ferrari have found a way to boost its engine performance for qualifying and the start of the race by cooling the air going into the power unit?

Or could the cooling be related to the temperature of the MGU-H? If Ferrari is able to get more performance out of its energy recovery system in the early stages of a race by allowing it to run in a colder operating window, that could pay dividends.

One other theory is that the cooling bag is being used not for an ultimate performance gain, but to help Ferrari keep hold of an existing advantage by blocking what its rivals can see.

On-board footage from the German and Hungarian GPs showed that the camera bag blocks the lens, meaning Ferrari's pre-race preparations inside the cockpit and in particular its steering wheel settings were hidden from view.

Ferrari has benefited from very strong starts in recent races, prompting deep investigations from rival Mercedes to try to recover the ground it had lost.

One area of intrigue surrounding Ferrari's strong starts has been the use of an extra control element that is hidden below a silicon covering on the front of the team's wheel - highlighted in the below drawing from Giorgio Piola.

Analysis of the race starts of both Ferrari drivers shows them engage this control (which is either a button or a fulcrum) with their thumbs (Sebastian Vettel on the left and Kimi Raikkonen on the right) once the start sequence is under way, and then release it once the five red lights have gone out.

What this control does is unknown, but it is a new element for this year and it is most likely being used to help the drivers achieve the perfect getaway - either through helping them pin-point a clutch bite point or through how the clutch itself is released.

With overtaking so hard in F1 this year, gaining places at the start has taken on an increased importance - making it logical that Ferrari might do all it could to keep the secrets of its strong getaways hidden.

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