Ever since the introduction of technical directive TD039, the Ferrari F1 team struggled to keep up with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen on a Sunday afternoon. They also had trouble staying ahead of the Mercedes cars too, and it’s clear that Ferrari’s problems have something to do with TD039.
The Ferrari F1 team were more affected by technical directive TD039 than Red Bull and Mercedes, largely because of the way the F1-75’s floor and sidepods were designed. Being forced to run a higher ride height meant Ferrari were unable to produce as much downforce as at the start of the 2022 season.
Ferrari had hoped their fortunes would change at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, but once again the race showed clearly that the Ferrari lacked race pace. Things didn’t improve in the following races either, with TD039 seemingly the obvious reason behind their problems.
Race Pace Difference Between Ferrari And Red Bull
The pace advantage of the Red Bull became obvious after Leclerc’s final pitstop at Monza. Even with softer tires that were 7 laps younger, the Ferrari was barely any faster than the Red Bull over the course of a lap. As aerodynamic drag causes more problems at Monza than on other tracks, the draggy Mercedes W13 wasn’t able to challenge the Scuderia, but that didn’t help Ferrari much.
Monza and several of the following races proved that the Ferrari was still as fast as the Red Bull in qualifying, if not faster, and that the gap to the Mercedes W13 was also as big as it used to be in the first races of the season, when the F1-75 was seemingly the fastest car. Bearing that in mind, it becomes clear that neither the Red Bull nor the Mercedes became significantly faster.
Ferrari Are Just Slower
The reality is simply that the Ferrari lost its race pace since Spa (Leclerc was fast in Hungary, before TD039 was introduced, and leading the race until Ferrari put him on inferior tires). But why did the car that used to be the best on the grid suddenly lose its race pace?
The answer to this question has links to an innovation from 2003, the technical directive introduced at Spa, and Ferrari’s sidepod design.
Ferrari’s T-Tray Damper For The 2022 F1 Season
At the 2022 Spa race, Formula 1 introduced technical directive ‘TD039’ to reduce porpoising (because Mercedes was pushing for changes to the cars) and to close a loophole in the technical regulations that was being exploited by Ferrari and Red Bull.
In 2003, Rory Byrne, the Chief-Designer of Ferrari’s Golden Era from 1997-2004 (the F2004 was the last car Rory Byrne was fully responsible for), designed a mount for the T-Tray. This is the most forward part of the floor, and the design allowed a certain amount of flexing to be able to run the car lower.
Running the car lower keeps the pressure under the car lower, with no or at least limited higher pressure ambient air able to get under the car, improving downforce production. Ferrari asked Byrne to oversee the design of the 2022 car as an adviser, but in relation to TD039 it’s the mounting at the most forward part of the floor that’s most interesting.
Preserving The Plank
The new generation of cars were intended to rely more on their floors and the ground effect to produce downforce. The closer the floor is to the ground, the more downforce it is able to produce. But being too close to the ground wears the wooden plank of the floor, and plank wear is restricted by the technical regulations.
So, Ferrari designed a very similar mounting for their 2022 contender as they did back in 2003, under Byrne’s instruction, to get around this issue. This time the mounting of the floor included a kind of damper, allowing a controllable cushioning effect to minimize plank wear.
Keeping Plank Wear Down
The 2022 technical regulations state that the plank cannot deflect more than 2 mm around various holes in the plank under the car. TD039 essentially just acts to enforce this rule in a stricter way. Red Bull, Ferrari, and even Haas were using their spring/damper systems in the T-tray at the front of the car to essentially work as a suspension system in the first half of the 2022 season.
When the plank hit the ground, it would move up, with the damper absorbing the bulk of the energy. Without the damper, all of the energy goes into the plank instead, wearing it down. So, by running a damper system, the teams could run the car lower to the ground without wearing the plank beyond the legal limits.
TD039 outlawed the use of Red Bull and Ferrari’s clever solutions and both teams were no longer able to run their cars as low as before, because the technical directive tightened the flexibility of the cars’ floors around various holes in the plank where wear is measured. This rendered any flexi floor dampers or springs obsolete.
Without any damping, the only way to avoid excessive plank wear is to lift the car higher off the ground. However, the technical directive had a second stipulation, which was to do with the vertical oscillations of the cars through the effect of porpoising. Essentially, the cars are now limited in how much they can bounce up and down.
If the car’s vertical oscillations exceed a given limit, the ride height must be increased until the limit is no longer exceeded. This ‘anti-porpoising’ measure forced Ferrari to run an even higher ride height than the plank wear-related portion of TD039 required alone, and so the car was running significantly higher (in relative terms) from Spa onwards than in the first part of the season.
And while Red Bull and Mercedes were able to keep their race pace or even slightly improve it after TD039 was introduced, Ferrari began to have problems with theirs. Even though Monza somewhat concealed some of these problems, two issues stood out after some basic analysis:
- No matter what tire compound the Ferrari drivers used, the performance dropped off after about 10 laps
- The drivers were complaining about the balance of a car that used to be well balanced before Spa
TD039 & Ferrari’s Sidepod Design
One of the reasons for these problems could lie in how TD039 impacted the effectiveness of Ferrari’s unique sidepod design on their 2022 challenger. But to understand why this is the case, we need to take a closer look at Ferrari’s overall design philosophy.
The concept of the F1-75 is based primarily on maximizing the ground effect. While all of the cars on the grid make use of the ground effect to produce downforce to some extent, not all teams put as much of a focus on it as Ferrari. Ferrari put a lot of time and resources into designing a floor with a very low roof, which puts more of a reliance on the ground effect in terms of downforce production than other teams.
How Low Can You Go?
To get even more downforce from the floor, Ferrari also put a lot of work into developing a new cooling system and making this all compatible with the engine and its auxiliaries. Everything had to be installed as low as possible to be able to produce a very slim and low engine cover and airbox. This significantly improved the airflow to the rear wing.
The unique (and brilliant) sidepod design improved the airflow to the beam wing. The rear and beam wing assembly is the part of the car that produces the strongest upwash, and because of that, it “drives” the floor the most. Improving the airflow here gives an even stronger upwash, drawing even more air through the floor, further improving downforce production.
The downside of this is that it also creates drag. To combat this, Ferrari developed an ingenious solution: the “bathtubs” on the tops of their sidepods. Their rear-surface works together with the diffuser ramp’s upper surface to form an area of higher pressure.
This adds downforce directly on the floor, but it also increases the pressure on the rear of the tub, reducing drag. The sidepods also create a wake that “pushes” the disturbed air from the front wheels away from the car, further reducing drag.
A Brilliant Solution
Ferrari therefore created a 2022 title challenger with a floor making maximum use of the ground effect, energized in the best way possible by the rear and beam wing assembly, but without the drag penalty this solution would normally have had thanks to an ingenious sidepod design.
While the sidepods are obviously not the only component that made the Ferrari so fast in the first part of the season, they were a major contributor to the car’s success. Compared to the concepts other teams were using to energize the floor (with a focus on the diffuser, which we’ll discuss soon), Ferrari’s concept was superior in terms of downforce production, giving more peak downforce.
But the introduction of TD039 meant the car had to run higher, which Ferrari’s floor was just simply not designed for. This meant the genius design of the sidepods, that did such a good job of energizing this low floor concept, was rendered obsolete – at least in terms of the advantage it gave Ferrari over Red Bull in the first half of the season. But let’s take a closer look at Ferrari’s issues.
Explaining Ferrari’s Problems In The Second Half Of 2022
The Drop In Tire Performance After 10 Laps
The reason for the drop off in tire performance could be to do with contact frequencies. Since the introduction of TD039, Ferrari was forced to use a stiffer suspension setup to preserve the plank. A stiffer suspension setup can lead to increased contact frequencies in the tire due to a lack of damping. Essentially, the tire needs to absorb more of the incoming frequencies than with a softer suspension setup.
NOTE: While we can’t know for sure why one team runs their suspension setup in a specific way, we can deduce how that will affect the behavior of the car. Teams may also alter their suspension stiffness throughout the season, so for now we are simply considering how the stiffer setup affected Ferrari.
Contact frequencies are one of a few things that determine how well a tire will grip the asphalt when it’s in action on the track. The other main determinants are the tire’s physical makeup (the combination of materials used in its construction) and its temperature and pressure. However, tire temperatures and contact frequencies work in opposite directions:
- When the temperature rises the compound becomes softer (offering more grip)
- When the contact frequencies increase the compound becomes harder (offering less grip)
The higher the contact frequencies between the tire and the track surface, the more temperature you need in the tires in order to provide enough grip.
Up to a point, the rubber will accept the incoming load, react against it, and try to spring back in the opposing direction to the load, thereby creating grip. Beyond that point, the rubber cannot regain shape quickly enough to absorb the next input of load. This has the effect of stiffening and hardening the compound, and the tire starts to slide.
Does This Explain Ferrari’s Poor Tire Performance Post-TD039?
Having problems with the contact frequencies would explain Ferrari’s problems with the tires. Over one lap, the tire doesn’t get beyond the point where traction becomes an issue, so Ferrari’s qualifying pace was not affected. But in the race, after about 10 laps’ worth of tire degradation, the tire gets beyond that point and becomes harder and less grippy.
The car starts to slide and lap times get longer. This would also explain why the Ferrari suddenly stopped working well with the harder tire compounds. The harder the tire, the more temperature you need to compensate for the hardening of the compound, and the more Ferrari struggled. This was compounded (no pun intended) by the fact Ferrari had to run a stiffer suspension thanks to TD039.
Explaining Ferrari’s Balance Problems
The higher ride heights necessary because of TD039 also led to a loss of aerodynamic load. The F1-75’s Venturi tunnels were designed for low ride heights, and so higher ride heights may have resulted in a change of the load distribution of the floor, leading to balance inconsistencies. Less aerodynamic load also results in higher tire degradation as the tires have less grip and slide more.
Less aerodynamic load would also explain why Ferrari suddenly lost their advantage when it came to the traction of the car. As the slow corners were where the Ferrari gained most of its time and was really dominant early on in the season, a reduction in traction in these corners would go a long way towards explaining the loss of pace compared to the Red Bull.
The stiffer suspension that TD039 required Ferrari to implement would decrease the car’s mechanical grip, which would combine with the loss of aerodynamic load to affect the car’s balance. But aside from a loss in mechanical grip, the higher ride height’s effect on the F1-75’s ability to produce downforce would also affect how the team could set the car up for different tracks.
Reduced Setup Flexibility
The aerodynamics of F1 cars are designed to work best within a given operating window of ride heights. Essentially, there will be a range of ride heights within which the car will perform at its best in terms of downforce production, with ride heights above a certain limit beginning to result in a decrease in downforce. TD039 meant the Ferrari had to run higher off the ground.
This pushed the car to the upper limits of this ideal operating window of ride heights. Let’s say, for example, that the ideal operating window was between 10-20 mm, with peak downforce produced between 10-14 mm (note that these numbers are just for illustration purposes). This means the Ferrari would perform best aerodynamically when sitting between 10 and 20 mm off the ground.
Ferrari would have some room to play with (10 mm in this example) in terms of car setup to tweak the car’s performance for a given track (to increase or decrease downforce levels, for high downforce or power tracks), but they’d ideally need the ride height to remain between 10-14 mm. Let’s then say that TD039 forced Ferrari to run a minimum ride height of 15 mm.
Not only does the car now only have 5 mm of play between the lowest possible ride height and the point at which downforce dramatically decreases (now 15-20 mm), but they have now lost the ability to produce the peak downforce that they could between 10-14 mm (as 15 mm is the new minimum). This would cause the car to be slower and less flexible in terms of setup.
So, it makes sense that Ferrari was hurt massively by the introduction of TD039, because the car’s “low-roof” Venturi tunnels were dependent on low ride heights in order to produce maximum downforce. But why weren’t Red Bull and Mercedes hurt as much?
How TD039 Affected Red Bull & Mercedes
Red Bull’s floor philosophy for 2022 was completely different to Ferrari’s low-roof design. Red Bull designed tunnels with a high roof, which meant the car was less dependent on the ground effect and relied more on diffuser performance.
The Red Bull emphasized acceleration of the airflow under the car using vortices, which are essentially whirling sections of air that not only accelerate the airflow under the car, but also keep the flow attached to the floor surfaces. This allows the car to work the floor harder without the flow separating, and to run a steeper diffuser angle, both of which help produce and maintain higher downforce levels.
The Red Bull car also utilized a flow of clean, high-energy air at the diffuser sidewalls to further energize these important vortices under the floor and those entering the diffuser. By opening up the sidewalls of the diffuser, they can utilize airflow from the top of the floor to further accelerate the airflow at the diffuser. All of this allows the diffuser to become much more effective.
Using Rake To Their Advantage
By accelerating airflow into the diffuser, the air under the floor is also accelerated further, as the diffuser draws more air in through the front of the floor. To make this system work even better, they still use some rake (i.e. the rear of the car sits higher than the front), which helps accelerate the air even more as the gap between the leading edge of the floor and the ground is smaller.
Because the car gets higher at the rear, reducing the ground effect in that area, the Red Bull (and the Mercedes, which largely copied Red Bull’s design) was clearly designed with less of a focus on ground effect, and more on diffuser performance.
That’s why Red Bull and Mercedes were not hurt by TD039, as the higher ride heights did not affect the performance of their floor that was already designed to work more comfortably with a higher ride height in the first place.
NOTE: While other teams began to essentially copy Red Bull’s designs, it’s clear that their overall floor and diffuser design is the one that works best on the current grid
While Ferrari updated the F1-75 design as the second half of the season progressed to seemingly incorporate some of Red Bull’s design, the changes weren’t enough. More changes are likely to be made as time goes on to ensure their 2023 campaign is not over before it begins, but how much they will use of Red Bull’s design and how powerful their changes can be will only become clear when they go racing again in 2023.
The technical directive introduced after the 2022 summer break favored cars less dependent on ground effect and low ride heights, and so those reliant on running as low as possible suffered the most. This explains most of the issues Ferrari faced after TD039 was introduced at the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix.
Andi writes technical F1 articles and analysis for German media, and is in constant contact with current and former Formula 1 engineers. He shares his insights to help Formula 1 fans gain more understanding of the technical side of the sport.