Ferrari introduced a new floor in Friday practice for Formula 1’s Japanese Grand Prix, the latest step in its ongoing battle to improve the consistency of what has too often been an unpredictable car this year.
The new floor features modifications to the floor fences, edges, the mid-floor body and the diffuser sidewall. There is also a change to the sidepod to work with it. Ferrari has characterised these changes as “focusing on losses management and load distribution, which translates into a car efficiency increase”.
Charles Leclerc ran the new floor throughout the first day of practice, with team-mate Carlos Sainz running the old specification by way of a back-to-back during FP1. Sainz then switched to the new floor in FP2.
Gary Anderson's verdict
My first thought when hearing what the Ferrari drivers said about the latest upgrade at Suzuka is that most teams are now heading towards what I have been calling ‘dimmer switch’ floor sealing, as opposed to ‘light switch’ floor sealing.
You will not see the peak numbers of downforce from the underfloor, but what you have will be a lot more consistent and that is exactly what the driver wants.
So how has Ferrari achieved this?
The underfloor leading edge has had three iterations since the beginning of the season. The major change in the profile (blue highlight) was for Miami, but for Suzuka, it was just a small change to the inner splitter leading edge profile (green highlight). Small changes like this just alter the flow distribution to the underfloor.
One other comment is that the original leading-edge profile was more in line with the pushrod (yellow highlight). But Ferrari found that more flow through that outer corner means that you get more from it as the turning vanes redirect that flow out of the sides of the front corner of the floor.
For 2024, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ferrari changed to a pullrod front suspension system and moved the trackrod (magenta highlight) to be in line with the upper or lower wishbone.
You need to get these suspension components into the most benign location and, to me, neither of these achieve that.
Further downstream, it looks like Ferrari has increased the length of the small tunnel that is in the outer foot area of the floor.
This is the area that if it is simply a flat foot it acts like my ‘light switch’ seal. When it’s on the ground, or very close to it, the underfloor downforce numbers are massive, but move it up 5mm and the losses are huge.
Having this extended tunnel (yellow highlight) open at the rear (red highlight) turns it into more of a ‘dimmer switch’. This is because you allow an air cushion to be pulled through this tunnel by the energy of the flow from the inner tyre squirt.
Nothing is ever new. We saw this on the foot of the pre-ground effect cars front wing endplates (green ellipse). This was for exactly the same reason it was less critical to the distance from the ground.
Over the last few races, Ferrari has definitely found the sweet spot in terms of how it runs the car.
I’m not sure Ferrari will continue its winning ways from Singapore, but podium places should be on the cards.
What the drivers said
Sainz characterised the change as “not a big step, it’s really fine-tuning the aerodynamics of our car” and said the day was focused on a wide range of set-up experiments. Leclerc referred to the consistency gains as the key benefit.
“It did what we expected it to do, which gave us a little bit of consistency, which was good to see,” said Leclerc when asked how big a step forward the new floor was. “I don’t think there was a lot of performance in it, but let’s wait and see.
“We keep learning about this car, in the last two or three races we learned a lot and now it's about putting all of it together, which we did in Singapore and we need to do that here too. Red Bull seem to be extremely quick this weekend, but I don't think we are so far [behind].”
Leclerc also suggested that he had more confidence in the car during Friday's running at Suzuka.
He said after the recent Singapore Grand Prix that the move to a more understeery set-up required to get the most out of the car was not suited to his driving style. Attempts to set the car up with some oversteer, as he preferred, did not work because of how unstable the car was.
However, a combination of the upgrade, the set-up and a tweak to his driving style meant he was happier at Suzuka.
“Today was a little bit better,” said Leclerc. “The last two or three races I was struggling a bit with the balance of the car. Today I changed a little bit my driving style, went a little bit with the car in my direction too and the feeling is better.
“But obviously it's only one day and we need to keep pushing and do another step forward tomorrow.”