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Formula 1

How Ferrari’s 2021 F1 car influences its key 2022 advantage

by Matt Beer
5 min read

The early performance of Ferrari’s 2021 Formula 1 car will define its season as the team’s main use of more aerodynamic testing time compared to rivals will be developing its 2022 car.

Ferrari’s SF21 will be tasked with restoring the Maranello team’s competitiveness after a terrible 2020 season in which it finished sixth in the constructors’ championship.

An overhauled engine and reworked aerodynamics have recovered a substantial amount of its straightline speed deficit from last year, according to the team, which means Ferrari has the expectation of returning to the top three in the championship.

Its miserable 2020 came with a silver lining following the introduction of a new handicap system for the aerodynamic testing restrictions (ATR), which lets teams have more windtunnel time and CFD work the further down the championship they finish.

Ferrari is allowed five more windtunnel runs per week than Mercedes, and can produce 250 more CFD items per aerodynamic testing period (usually an eight-week stretch).

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Team Number of windtunnel runs/week Number of CFD items/aero testing period
Mercedes 36 1800
Red Bull 37 1850
McLaren 38 1900
Aston Martin 39 1950
Renault 40 2000
Ferrari 41 2050

With major new technical rules coming into operation in 2022, and teams only allowed to conduct aerodynamic work for those rules from January 1 2021, the 10 teams will be preparing for a new era of car design with different development allowances.

This is further complicated by a quartet of small but impactful aerodynamic changes also introduced for 2021, which mean teams risk sacrificing this season if they switch development focus to 2022 too early.

Each team must balance this, but it comes at a critical moment for Ferrari. Given the extent of its 2020 struggles, progress this year is vital to ensure it has taken the right steps to correct its shortcomings. If its early-season performance is not what it expects, it will be tempted – perhaps even required – to spend aero testing time addressing that.

But 2022 is a huge opportunity to end Mercedes’ dominance of F1. Ferrari’s bigger ATR allowance may not be decisive for the Scuderia’s 2022 efforts, but it is a key advantage in trying to get ahead for the start of F1’s new era next year.

So, the longer Ferrari must spend correlating its 2021 car with its development expectations, the more it subtracts from the aero testing advantage it could have for 2022. Which means what Ferrari has early in the season is likely going to be its performance level for the majority of 2021, if not the entire championship.

“Having some more time at the windtunnel having finished sixth last year, our focus during 2021 will be developing the 2022 car,” pledged team boss Mattia Binotto.

Ferrari Fda F1 Debut

“That will be the main target. So, we will not spend much time on 2021 during the season.

“It’s a choice that we need to make at some stage but 2022 is a big change. There is a minimum quantity of exercise and design and projects that need to be developed. So, most of the effort will be in there.

“That’s why to see how the car is handling at the very start of the season is very important, because it’s the balance of performance we may see for the rest of the season.

“We know how much we progress in the windtunnel, in power [output]. But more than that, what will be important is to see the track delivery, how the car will behave compared to expectations.

“We have experienced in the past, we are not the only ones, that sometimes you may have mismatch from the windtunnel to the racetrack.

“That will be a key point for all the competitors because, having changed the regulations on the back of the car, I think there is a work of correlation which is needed.

“That will be a key factor for the season.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Preparation Day Monza, Italy

This does not mean Ferrari will have to waste some of its ATR allowance if it finds itself a long way behind Mercedes in pre-season testing or the Bahrain season opener. Ferrari is realistic and knows it fell such a long way in 2020 that it will not be fighting for wins this year.

“It’s not something that you can recover in a single winter,” Binotto admitted.

Ferrari’s ideal scenario is probably that its SF21 emerges as a clear third-best, at least ahead of the midfield pack it fell into last year.

If that happens, even if Mercedes and Red Bull remain out of reach, then barring any exceptional miscorrelation Ferrari will likely take that as sufficient for 2021.

This will then allow it to focus fully on 2022 sooner rather than later. And the magnitude of Ferrari’s preparations for F1’s new era cannot be overstated.

Binotto says it is partly why he anticipates he’ll be missing more races again this year – but not early on, as the early performance of the 2021 car is still very important to assess.

Ferrari Fda F1 Debut

“Last year I missed some races because at the end there is an entire company to manage and it’s not only the race weekend at the racetrack, there are a lot of things going on back at Maranello,” he said.

“A lot of people to manage, coordinate, and the activity itself. Now this year will hopefully be a 23-race championship, it will be very long, it will be very dense in the second half.

“And there is quite a big challenge for 2022, as well, to face. So my intention will be again not to be part of all the races during the 2021 season.

“Certainly [I] will be part of the start of the season itself, that will be important to assess our performance and make sure that everything is working well on the racetrack.

“But at some stage, I will start missing some races and being back in Maranello concentrated on 2022.”

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