Ferrari’s early lead with its 2022 Formula One car means a risk it took earlier in the season is paying off.
F1’s budget cap has upped the ante when it comes to ensuring large teams get their development decisions right. In recent months, a dominant narrative has been that these increasing constraints on spending, wind tunnel time and CFD work have placed a high priority on efficiency.
With this in mind, Ferrari decided against a significant early upgrade of its car for 2022. While main competitors Red Bull and Mercedes introduced major developments during testing.
Despite many competitors obscuring developments in their launches and predicting a spate of upgrades earlier in the year, the F1-75 has remained largely unchanged since it first took to the track at a pre-season shakedown.
Already at the season opener in Bahrain, this was touted as a major benefit by the Ferrari drivers as the team had focused over the two weeks of testing (and the time in between) on understanding and improving a consistent package without introducing any key new variables .
“The budget cap has an impact on how we operate this season,” says Claudio Albertini, race director at Ferrari.
“In a development it is extremely important that the new component is good, otherwise you waste money and time.
“It’s true that having an older car has led us to an improvement process rather than bringing new parts and not using the old ones anymore, which isn’t useful for the budget ceiling aspect.”
Now Ferrari has won two of its first three Grands Prix and has a strong lead in both championships after risking backing its base specification of the F1-75 enough to be good enough to get an early job while it validates its development path.
“Sometimes everything is a bit of a bet,” says Albertini.
“If you bring it earlier and it’s okay, you’re more relaxed and you develop further.
“But if you bet and come up with a new component on the second test, but then it doesn’t work, it’s even worse.”
Ferrari did not rely on either. He bet his patience would be rewarded.
That’s a luxury that the competition couldn’t afford. Ferrari has given this car more attention than 2021 title contenders Red Bull and Mercedes, aided by the “sliding scale” on which aerodynamic testing restrictions have been in place since early last year.
The lower a team finishes in the championship, the more wind tunnel time and CFD work they get. Ferrari finished sixth in their miserable 2020 season, allowing them to do more development work than Mercedes and Red Bull last year.
So Ferrari didn’t have the distraction of a championship fight last year, but more importantly they had extra resources at their disposal.
“They obviously started this project much earlier than we did,” admits Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
“And so we’re playing catch-up to a degree.”
With Ferrari able to do more work over the past year, it likely had a more mature concept for 2022 by the end of 2021.
This is almost certainly a factor in why it could afford to be patient when rolling out major upgrades. His starting car may have been in development for weeks ahead of the cars Red Bull and Mercedes only had for the second test in Bahrain.
This allowed Ferrari to plan how to use its development allowance for 2022 to have a properly refined car design to start the season with confidence.
“Since the project started, when you see that the car has potential, we’ve been able to identify and focus on the parts of the car that performed better,” says Albertini.
“Now we understand that our first idea was good because the important parts are in good condition. And we are following the baseline that we have had since last year.”
This was a big opportunity for Ferrari and one that was clearly capitalized with a very cute design in the F1-75.
The car has some issues, with porpoise eradication a short-term priority, but nothing meaning Ferrari will spend the first few weeks or months of the season fighting the fire.
So the rewards for this approach could be significant. In theory, Ferrari has earned this fantastic start to the season without spending as much of its development resources as its rivals.
Ferrari will of course spend money and time in the wind tunnel on behind-the-scenes developments. At the same time, weight savings, aerodynamic development and mechanical improvements are being worked on.
But Ferrari is taking its time. These are investments that will soon bear fruit, albeit unlikely before Imola.
The biggest challenge will be to maximize the scope to develop the car from here so that its early advantage is not wiped out.
“Fortunately, the car was good from the start, so it’s good for us because we can focus on developing well and not having to compete against teams that are better than us,” says Albertini.
“This is a good start to the season for us. Of course we start with the development. With these new regulations, it’s a different approach than in the past.
“But future developments are already in our line, because this philosophy of the car is very new.
“There are many things we still want to investigate and improve.”