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Formula 1

Ferrari's Imola F1 upgrade will test its audacious Red Bull theory

by Edd Straw, Gary Anderson
5 min read

Ferrari will introduce its first significant upgrade package of the season for this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, which team principal Vasseur characterises as a “small step” but one that could allow it to take the fight to Red Bull consistently.

The development parts ran for the first time at Fiorano last week and included a modification to the sidepod inlets (see below), as well as changes to the floor and rear wing. 

The effectiveness of the package will be a key indication of whether Ferrari can close the gap to Red Bull as the season progresses. 

As Charles Leclerc said in Miami, “the season will be down to upgrades – we have ours coming very soon and that will define a little bit the rest of the season for us”.

Vasseur believes that the fact the field is so compressed in terms of performance means that it no longer requires massive upgrade packages to change the competitive order and that a small swing in Ferrari’s favour could put it close to or at a similar level to Red Bull.

In Miami, Ferrari wasn’t far off. In qualifying, Charles Leclerc was 0.141s down (just 0.108s in the sprint shootout) and the team’s race pace was similar to that of Red Bull and McLaren.

However, that was distorted by Max Verstappen’s pace being stymied later in the race by damage sustained when he cut the chicane and hit a bollard – as well as the tyre troubles Red Bull battled all weekend.

“It’s almost like this from the beginning of the season, depending on the track,” said Vasseur after the Miami GP. “Honestly, Red Bull is still ahead but probably Max could have won without the story of the safety car. 

"I don't want to draw any conclusions on this but they did a pole position, it means they [Red Bull] still have a small advantage.

"What is true is that compared to one year ago, when we're able to do a good job and put everything together, we're there. 

"It means we're putting them under a little bit of pressure, they have to be more aggressive with strategy and they're not anymore in the comfort zone of last year. Last year it didn't matter what happened after lap two, they were in front. 

"And it's a game-changer in the management of the race and this creates an opportunity for us because if we're doing another small step, we will be really in a position to fight with them every single weekend."

Ferrari is the second-best team over the season in terms of performance and points. On average single-lap pace, it’s 0.351% off Red Bull, while on race pace the deficit has usually been around the 0.2-0.3s per lap bracket – although it’s difficult to put a precise number on that given how sensitive to the situation race pace can be. 

It’s been far more consistent than last year, but McLaren took a leap forward with its Miami upgrade that, combined with Red Bull also making improvements with further developments, means Ferrari needs to take a step. That’s what the Imola package, which Vasseur stresses is not “a game-changer” is about.

But if it succeeds then it may just test its theory that it's only one step away from regularly challenging Red Bull. 

And make no mistake, this is no special push for the first of two home races either, but the first major step of its 2024 upgrade plan. 

“When you're doing development, it's not that we want to bring something to Imola because it's Italy, we're pushing for the developments and as soon as we're ready, we're producing parts,” said Vasseur.  

"The fact that Imola is close to the factory is also helping to bring something. We can release the parts a bit later.

“We don't have to expect it will be a game-changer, but it's tight [so] this can bring performance.”

GARY ANDERSON ON FERRARI UPGRADES

The development race is a bit like pitstop strategy. Do you try to undercut everyone else and reap the reward of your developments while others are still muddling along with what they have?

Or do you overcut the others by getting the best out of what you have as others are getting up to speed with their new packages and also have the opportunity to see what direction they are taking, and react as quickly as possible when a competitor team makes a step in the right direction?

It looks like Ferrari has reacted to McLaren's Miami upgrade with its new sidepod inlet arrangement. However I’m pretty sure it has been in the pipeline for much longer. It’s not unlike the Red Bull solution as it now has an extended upper surface to the intake.

It also connects directly to the vertical intake, making it an L-shaped duct. The modifications to this area of the sidepod inlet all seem to be in front of the body-joint line that I have highlighted with the blue arrow.

The location, shape and size of the inlet are all based on the airflow coming off the trailing edge of the front wing. This is then realigned to some extent by the location and positioning of the front suspension members.

Ferrari has also altered the sidepod furniture, which I have highlighted with a green arrow. I am not seeing the cockpit-side outlet, which I have highlighted with a red arrow on the older version. But perhaps it is just further rearward.

The rear-view mirror outer mount, which is highlighted with the magenta arrow, has also been changed.

There will be many more changes when the cars are revealed at Imola. A home race always puts a bit of extra pressure on Ferrari, so it will be interesting to see how it handles that and where these developments put the car in the pecking order for the first race in Europe.

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