Dirty air problem could pose threat to Ferrari’s impressive upgrades

Uros Radovanovic
Charles Leclerc drives upgraded Ferrari SF-23. Austria, June 2023.

Charles Leclerc at the wheel of the upgraded Ferrari SF-23. Austria, June 2023.

Charles Leclerc’s impressive second-place finish in the Austrian GP has given Ferrari fans renewed hope for their team’s performance in the championship this season.

This is only the second time this season that the Italian team has secured a spot on the podium, which is a rather sorry state of affairs given the pre-season hype machine was set all the way to max at Maranello.

However, with recent updates to their car in the previous few races, Ferrari seems to have found a stronger pace. Let’s explore some of the significant technical updates which have contributed to their remarkable progress on track.

A trip down memory lane

If we rewind to the start of the 2022 season, we’ll recall that the top three teams chose three different approaches. Mercedes went for zero-pods, Red Bull opted for downwash sidepots, and Ferrari embraced an in-wash sidepods solution. Each team was determined to stick with their idea through the season, but it soon became clear that Red Bull had made the right call.

Fast forward to the midpoint of the 2023 season, and nearly everyone has followed Red Bull’s concept. Mercedes abandoned the zero-pods from this year’s Monaco GP and beyond, while Ferrari demonstrated in Barcelona that they had also embraced that change of approach, leaving Haas as the only team sticking with a different design.

However, it would be incorrect to say that all the teams simply copied Red Bull. Ferrari implemented the downwash concept in their own unique way, adding their touch of Ferrari flair.

Let’s go back to the beginning and explain why the downwash idea has emerged as the most successful choice.

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Downwash = success in modern day F1

Certainly, the main advantage of this downwash concept is its ability to accomplish multiple tasks effectively. The wide sidepods push the turbulent air from the front wheels away from the car while directing clean air to important areas like the beam wing and the diffuser.

Teams like Aston Martin and Ferrari have added channels or “tubes” to improve the flow of clean air in this design.

Another benefit is that it provides more space to attach the floor, resulting in better stability and predictability.

If we analyse the 2022 Ferrari sidepods, we can observe that the primary airflow to the beam wing and diffuser originated from the undercut area (the space between the upper surface of the floor and the sidepods).

The cockpit and cooling-related airflow, carrying some losses (dirty air), passed above the sidepods and then underneath the rear wing, so as not to disrupt the flow around the main aerodynamic components.

The challenge with this original concept is the potential mixing of turbulent air from the front wheels with clean air from the undercut area.

This is particularly noticeable in corners when the airflow direction changes. Hence, downwash sidepods have proven to be a simpler and better solution to address this issue.

New challenges ahead for Ferrari

Now that Ferrari has embraced this approach, it may bring about some potential new challenges. As mentioned earlier, it is crucial to avoid directing cooling losses toward essential aerodynamic components responsible for generating downforce.

In the image below, you can see that Ferrari has several cooling vents positioned above the sidepods. This could potentially pose a problem if the dirty air generated by these vents mixes with the clean airflow.

On the other hand, Mercedes tackled this issue with an extreme design, aiming to direct all the dirty airflow under the rear wing. They incorporated a distinctive “cannon-like” geometry above the sidepods, extending from the halo to the rear end of the car.

However, despite introducing the B version of the SF-23 in Barcelona, significant performance improvements were not immediately evident. Both Leclerc and Sainz struggled to maintain a competitive pace, particularly on the hard tyres.

But the races in Canada and Austria yielded better results for the Italian team. The issues encountered with the hard tyres in Barcelona were not present, and both Ferrari drivers showed improved performance on this tyre compound.

It’s worth noting that the tracks in Canada and Austria are quite different from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, so the true test for Ferrari will undoubtedly be at Silverstone to give them the full picture of their progress.

Austria GP updates

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that Ferrari arrived at the Red Bull Ring with slight modifications to the front wing and a changed floor.

The main changes to the front wing include a redesigned endplate and a different flap configuration. The flaps now have increased spacing between them, which is also observed in other teams’ designs.

Also, the front wing endplate features a more curved leading edge with a revised diveplane line. The previous intricate “S” shape has been replaced by a simpler design, in line with the overall modifications.

Although these changes may appear subtle, they indicate Ferrari’s commitment to optimizing the new concept and refining other components to enhance the overall performance of the car. Such adjustments are a normal part of the development process, and the impressive results in the recent race serve as further evidence that the engineering team is heading in the right direction.

British GP will be a real test

As previously mentioned, the upcoming race at Silverstone will truly put the new version of the SF-23 to the test.

This iconic track is notorious for its tyre-wearing nature, making it the perfect battleground to determine whether the engineers have effectively resolved the challenges – particularly with the hard compound.

Over to you, Ferrari.

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