After its package showed so much potential and pace at the start of last year, Ferrari was left stung after losing both world championships in 2017. But looking at the new SF71-H launched today, it's clear the team has used that bitter defeat as motivation to get every last bit of performance from the 2018 regulations and make amends.
Not that there was much wrong with Ferrari's chassis, power unit or operation in 2017 -- it just fell a little short of Mercedes in every area. So it's right that the new car isn't radically new but is clearly updated in all aspects, with some innovative touches along the way.
In many respects Ferrari had all the design elements to make a successful race car in 2017. It had already made their radical steps in 2017, pushing the car's aerodynamics -- in particular the sidepod design -- while the power unit was a big step on from the disappointing 2016 unit. The team is made up of largely the same personnel in 2018 and this continuity not only makes for a seamless shift into another season, but is also proof that Sergio Marchionne has confidence in their abilities. This is critical for Ferrari as an anxious management often makes mistakes, and Maranello cannot afford any slip ups this year.
Looking at the newly-liveried 2018 car, every area shows new details. Even the nose, which follows the wide thumb-tipped design of last year's but now sports wing mounts with vertical slots -- a McLaren idea that helps direct the air off the front wing towards the main bargeboards. Then the whole bargeboard package is revised and integrated with the revised sidepod fronts. Ferrari has created a taller sidepod front, placing the inlet up high, but it's not the inlet but the deep undercut formed in the sidepod shape beneath that drives this aerodynamic concept.
Air grabbed by this undercut is driven over the rear of the floor for better diffuser performance. To take this concept a step further for 2018, Ferrari have narrowed the sidepod inlet to just a small square inlet near the cockpit side. This shifts even more of the sidepod shape over to the undercut's downwash effect, creating yet more downforce from the rear of the car.
One eye-catching development are the mirrors. These are usually innocuous devices -- there are rules that fix the size of the mirror itself -- but little else to control their shape. It appears Ferrari has gone to the extreme length of forming a winglet into the shape of the mirror pod itself. The black paint on the front of the sidepod hides a slot and this forms the underside of a wing profile that exits over the top of the mirror. While Benetton had mirror vented pods in the 1990s they weren't as overtly aerodynamic as these.
Painted in the same red as the majority of the car, the Ferrari Halo is typical of what we can expect with aerodynamic add-ons -- a shapely faring with a boomerang shape winglet over the top that guides more airflow into the roll-hoop inlet. Ferrari also have changed their roll hoop design into a more rounded inlet formed around the inner roll hoop, which serves to split the airflow into different ducts for the engine's airbox and various cooling radiators. Such a large and multi-function roll hoop shows the Halo hasn't had the negative aero impact that many first feared when it was first fitted to cars in free practice sessions.
Again, the sidepods are slim and the bodywork above sports a truncated shark fin as demanded by the regulations. Then there's the addition of a low winglet fitted to the very tail of the engine cover. As with the monkey seat, it may be misinterpreted that the rules for this year banned T-wings. In fact, the upper T-wing loophole has been written out of the rules along with the large shark fin, but the wording of the regulations also allows for a lower wing -- as raced by Williams for much of 2017. Every team will know about and exploit this space for a small winglet, but rather than for pure downforce as with 2017's upper coat-hanger wings, the lower one is more useful to shape the airflow approaching the rear wing.
Beneath all of this is the new power unit, an area where Ferrari have caught up with Mercedes in race performance, but lacked that final horsepower in qualifying. Focus over the winter must be to get that tactical boost in power for qualifying and race overtakes. Of course, this progress must not be at the cost of reliability, which Ferrari struggled with both with major part failures early in the season and several small faults that cost race results later in the year.
Making a difference where it counts
An area Ferrari excelled in last year was tyre management over a race distance, albeit at the cost of qualifying tyre use. It's apparent the front suspension is not as radically positioned as many other cars, compromising aero slightly for better tyre management. With the extra tyre compound choices and less one stop races, Ferrari will need to be mindful of the balance between short run tyre use and longer stints, given the likely reduction in stint lengths on softer tyres.
Has Ferrari found all the small gains required to out muscle Mercedes this year? On paper it's looking good, but Red Bull are also in the mix this year. Over the full course of the season it will be initial pace, reliability and the development race between these three teams that will be critical in deciding the championship.