Will Gray

Tech Talk: Can Ferrari re-generate their development race?

Will Gray

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Ferrari driver Felipe Massa of Brazil steers his car during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 7

Formula One is all about the development race — but after Red Bull's recent giant leap could a new level of understanding at Ferrari help them attack back in the final three races?

Red Bull have been invincible since mastering their complex exhaust flow and sidepod diffuser flow separator layout, with Sebastian Vettel ruling from the front and scoring a perfect 100 in the last four races.

Before Vettel's dramatic run of success, Fernando Alonso was sitting comfortably with a 39-point advantage. If he had finished second behind Vettel in every one of the last four races he would still be ahead — but one DNF and two third places mean he's now 13 points behind.

Despite the recent results and performances, he is realistically the only driver in a position to catch the reigning champion — and in truth he only needs a few tenths improvement in the car for qualifying to improve his chances of starting up front and managing the race.

Yes, he has been chasing that qualifying performance all season, but Ferrari believes there may now be a difference.

The team has suffered correlation issues with their wind tunnel for some time, with the performance of development parts failing to work as the figures in the wind tunnel had suggested.

In recent years, wind tunnel models have increased in their level of detail and also in size due to need to integrate the complex internal car-produced airflows like the exhausts that now play a crucial part in the overall aerodynamic performance.

The fundamental nature of a wind tunnel means it has walls and that means there is never going to be 100 percent correlation between flow in the tunnel and on the track, where there are no boundaries, so it is important to understand what skews the tunnel results and how.

This is something Ferrari have struggled with in their own tunnel and have tried to overcome by using Toyota's facility in Cologne.

The problem is that the difference in the numbers can be down to a great many things - the scale of the tunnel, the quality of the incoming flow (a variety of solutions can be used to help create a clean airflow in the test section), the size and quality of the model, and so on.

In the wind tunnel, the most basic test run involves the car model being run on a rolling road and put into a series of different ride heights at a set speed, creating a map of how the new part compares to the baseline. Some tunnels are so complex they can run the car through a full simulated racetrack — but while the more complex testing can bring results closer to reality they can also go the other way.

After the race in Korea, Ferrari conducted a straightline aerodynamic test to try to get a clearer understanding as to how the track and wind tunnel work relates to the basic ride-height run in the wind tunnel.

Why Ferrari did not do this earlier is hard to understand, but now they have, while not a eureka moment it could be a step that helps them quickly revisit their past developments and make them work.

If that is the case, it is no surprise that Ferrari has promised Alonso updates at every race from now on.

In the Indian Grand Prix, the latest new parts worked and after back-to-back comparison tests the new diffuser, which has an additional channel in the centre of the car and small skirts on the outer edge, was raced by Alonso.

The problem is, however, Ferrari started the season with a basic car concept that many believe is fundamentally flawed.

They have done well to drag it up from where it was, but since the middle of the season it has reached its limit.

Now, whether that limit has been hit because the wind tunnel confusion has stalled development or because the car is simply not able to be developed further should become clear in these crucial final three races.

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