Features - 2011 Grand Prix Review
JANUARY 23, 2012
BY TONY DODGINS
Pos 3: Scuderia Ferrari
Fernando Aonso (E); Felipe Massa (BR)
Points: 375; Best finish: 1st (Silverstone)
When Ferrari and Fernando Alonso finished 2010 so strongly - Abu Dhabi and Vitaly Petrov notwithstanding - many assumed that the combination would take the fight to Red Bull in 2011. It's probably fair to say that Ferrari started the new season joint championship favourites.
It wasn't to be. The 150 Italia broke little new ground and, early season, there were correlation problems between the wind tunnel and track.
Looking for improved data, Ferrari changed its model scale from 50 to 60% and although early tests looked okay, they reached a point where the increase in blockage from the bigger model caused trouble. It meant re-adjusting the whole shape of the tunnel, the boundary layer, the size of the belt, pretty much everything.
An early season upgrade did not produce the improvement hoped for and Alonso's home race in Barcelona highlighted the team's shortcomings.
A characteristic of recent Ferraris has been gentle use of the tyres and it was initially thought that with a banning of double diffusers and higher degradation tyres from Pirelli, it could pay dividends.
In fact, the opposite was true. The car would not generate enough tyre temperature in qualifying and Alonso seemed to take out a permanent lease on fifth grid slot, generally behind the Red Bulls and McLarens.
In Spain though, he made a ballistic start and led the race for the first two stints on the soft tyre. The fact that he was lapped when Ferrari bolted on the hard compound Pirelli brought the extent of the problem into crystal clear focus.
Sporting director Stefano Domenicali publicly praised the spirit of his driver and made it clear that the problem lay at Ferrari's end. The team quickly dispensed with technical director Aldo Costa, who was snapped up by Ross Brawn at Mercedes. Pat Fry, a long time McLaren man recruited by Ferrari to look after on-track engineering, took over the reins.
"Our tyre issues were really down to the classic Ferrari problem/benefit -- depending what type of track you're at - of generating bulk temperature in the tyre," Fry explains. "At McLaren it was almost the opposite -- they could generate temperature straight away and are still the same now. It's a fundamental of how you set the car up.
"I'm sure if we still had unlimited testing it would be relatively easy to swap between the two characteristics. Singapore is a classically low bulk temperature circuit, so you struggle to get the grip. But with all the traction events you overheat the surface, therefore you slide around more, wheelspin more and overheat the surface even more.
"Whereas at, say, Silverstone, which was good for us, you have long, fast corners where you really work the bulk temperatures. That trade has been there all through the last two seasons."
Fry points out that while Ferrari had the benefit of its Fiorano test track and plenty of running at Mugello, they were not at the level of McLaren in terms of simulation tools, which hurt them when on track testing was so severely curtailed.
It is not for nothing that Luca di Montezemolo and Alponso himself have been pointing out that F1 is the only major sport in which the participants are forbidden to practice...
"At McLaren we put a lot of effort into simulation because there wasn't the luxury of just popping out the back, it was a trip to Silverstone," Fry says. "That's over-simplifying but is largely the situation we have to recover from."
He also believed that there was more to be had from blown diffusers with the engine mapping if you ran a car with good tyre warm up.
"There's the issue of how you run your engine, the way you adjust the car stability with the engine controls. Because McLaren run their engine the way they do, it gives them an advantage in the corner entries that we can't access at the moment."
If Ferrari ran its engine the same way it suffered understeer and Fry admits that breaking a philosophy and doing something different is challenging.
Ferrari started to explore a Red Bull-type exhaust concept in the wind tunnel in December and had also looked at flexi front wings and increased rake but Costa figured that the area would be closed off by the regulations.
"We tried running more rake and it was simply a trade-off of where the downforce was," Fry says. "You're trading centre of gravity height and losing out a bit. It's down to the way the exhaust interacts with the floor and the tyre and you're trying to stop the air coming in underneath the tyre, so if you lift the rake up you change the area you're blowing.
"Optimising your front wing when it's close to the ground is one reason you do it and the other - our main driving force at Silverstone - was that's where the downforce was. So it wasn't a challenge running it there, you had to run it and make sure it was working as you'd expect.
"You use the exhaust gas to seal the floor. The high pressure area in front of the tyre is trying to come around into the low pressure area under the diffuser and you blow to stop it.
"The fact that we had our most competitive race with the Silverstone interpretation of off-throttle blowing did suggest we weren't getting as much out of the technology as some."
Alonso's Silverstone win was Ferrari's lone victory of 2011 and Fry adds: "Silverstone made people run at the level we were already running at. They didn't have time to re-optimise their cars. If you'd given them a couple of weeks they would have done. And it looked like Red Bull didn't use KERS in qualifying there, which is why we looked that bit closer."
Felipe Massa had another disappointing year. He finished it with just 118 points to Alonso's 257. Fifth place, which he managed six times, was his best finish of the year. In the circumstances it was perhaps surprising that Maranello kept its faith and the Scuderia will certainly be looking for stronger performances from both its chassis and its second driver in 2012.