Ferrari launched its car, the F138 in Maranello today. The team made it very clear that it intended to start the season strongly, unlike last year, where it played catch up to the McLaren and Red Bull cars in particular.
In overview, the Ferrari F138, as presented at the launch, is similar in concept to last year’s model and does not show as many detailed changes as the McLaren, released yesterday. The stepped nose has gone, which is eye catching, but not hugely significant. The main work appears to have gone into the rear of the car and there is a clear emphasis on thermal management with the tyres and on improving pit stop speed with some intricate detail changes around the rear wheels.
Technical director Pat Fry said, “This year’s car is more of an evolution than a revolution, based on similar concepts to the F2012 and in all the little areas of performance where we think we can gain something, we have looked for those gains.
“The car has changed in subtle ways, some areas more than others, but in general, the F138 is a development of last year’s car.”
It is slightly surprising, given how important this season will be to Ferrari, that the car does not show more changes. They may be concerned, having seen the McLaren yesterday, that their Woking rivals have changed so many things on what was already the pace setting car at the end of last season.
Ferrari will no doubt have many updates in the pipeline for winter testing this month and the early races. They may have some exciting developments which they don’t want to reveal at the moment.
But from what we have seen in the last 24 hours it looks like they are going to need them to stay with what looks like an improved McLaren.
Last year Ferrari started the season on the back foot. They had problems with correlation problems between their own wind tunnel and the Toyota tunnel, which hurt their development. The only development items that worked were the ones which came from the Toyota tunnel. It was down to Fernando Alonso to do a lot of hard work behind the wheel to grind out results to keep them in the game.
The car was pretty good at looking after its tyres, but lacked downforce in comparison with the McLaren and Red Bull cars.
The F138 in detail
There are not as many obvious fundamental changes in concept as there are with the McLaren; the front suspension is still pull-rod, as it was last year and as the new McLaren has moved to.
At the front they have gone with a non stepped nose and modified pillar design. The treatment is well done; the front wing in launch spec is similar in concept to last year’s. The turning vanes under the nose are retained. McLaren has removed them, interestingly.
The front wing design is similar to last year’s. They did not have any nose “cameras” on the launch car. Last year they moved these cameras to in-between the pillars to get more front aerobalance – no doubt they will be there for track running.
The under-nose is heavily contoured and the slotted turning vane is still there, as last year. This is a component, which was not present on the McLaren yesterday, which had been there last year.
The area around the cockpit and the roll-hoop is similar to last year’s. This whole section of the car, including the side pod and associated turning vanes, is very similar to last year, which is slightly surprising.
There is a secondary air intake once again behind the roll hoop, which could be for the passive double DRS system. This is a difficult thing to get right, as Lotus showed last year. Ferrari had one working at the Brazilian GP at the end of last season and this year’s model looks similar.
The rear of the car: The main area of change
There has clearly been a lot of work done at the rear of the car, aimed at tyre management and faster pit stop times. The rest of the rear has been modified, there are updates to the rear suspension and there are some very interesting detailed changes such as the rear wheel geometry which has changed with a new spoke pattern and detail around the wheel nut – maybe for enhancing thermal management of the tyre and brake cooling system and also to speed up pitstop times.
“We are trying to improve our pit stops still further and we have made some changes in that area,” admitted Fry. “Hopefully we can gain another couple of tenths off our pit stop time. On average, we were consistently the best in this area last year, but you cannot afford to stand still, otherwise you find yourself dropping behind.”
Tyre thermal management was key last year and the really interesting changes around the brake drum areas are only visible with the tyres off so we will need to wait a while for spy shots from testing to see what changes have been made in these areas.
The exhausts presented today are similar to last year’s. The definitive exhausts will only be seen at the final Barcelona test (Feb 28 to March 3).
The exhaust channel geometry looks very similar too, but it would be interesting to see if they have kept the same exhaust pipe diameter for their Coanda system. As a rule, the narrower the pipe the greater the Coanda effect as the exhaust gas is attracted to the surface through the channel and down to the diffuser. But a narrower pipe means a slight loss of engine power, so there’s a decision and a compromise to be made.
This is an area that will undergo extensive change and if Ferrari has had some breakthroughs, they were not wanting to show them today, so they rolled out something similar to last year.
The rear wing has been highly developed and now is very intricate with a new end plate design with trailing edge slots and a revised, smaller DRS actuator pod and revised upper rear wing element flap geometry around the same twin Slot Gap Separator locations, aiding efficiency.
There is no lower beam wing cascade but this has probably just been left off for just the launch.
Overall, it’s a more understated car that the McLaren and they must hope that they have plenty of significant steps in place prior to the first race in Melbourne, if they are to start the season on the same level as the McLaren.
Fry alluded to this in his remarks that the launch car is not representative of where the evolved car is in the wind tunnel at this point, “We cannot hide the fact that, aerodynamically, the launch car is a long way behind where we are in the wind tunnel today,” he said.
“We will have a better idea of what our true performance level is come the third test but I’m not going to be happy until we are clearly quickest.”
All eyes now on the Red Bull, which will launch on Sunday, to see if Adrian Newey and his team has come up with something special, as it did in 2011.
Testing begins next week in Jerez.
[Additional Technical input: Mark Gillan}