How Ferrari might conquer a colossal weakness in 2018

Kimi Raikkonen on track during the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; a race where the Scuderia struggled. In fact, the performance seemed to sum up their entire 2017 season: good, but not good enough to collapse Mercedes’ Formula 1 Empire.

If one Formula 1 team is under pressure heading into 2018, it’s Ferrari. Such pressure owes itself to their 2017 campaign, where the Scuderia proved they could take a fight to Mercedes and then – seemingly in the most embarrassing nature possible – they dropped the ball and let Mercedes effortlessly swoop both championship titles.

From a simple perspective, if Ferrari are ever going to beat the absolute dominance of Mercedes, they need to fight harder and stay stronger than they did in 2017. And, well, 2017 was the best effort Ferrari had put toward a World Championship in the V6-Hybrid era, yet it wasn’t nearly good enough to dethrone Mercedes.

If you asked anyone how Ferrari can finally topple the Silver Arrows, the simplest answer would be this: Ferrari need a better, quicker, and more reliable car. Sounds like a super simple dream, and one that’s significantly easier than done.

But, from listening to a Ferrari customer team and a couple of informed Italian journalists over the last few weeks, there’s definitely suggestions that the dream of a championship winning Ferrari could be about to become reality.

One of the big causes of Ferrari’s struggle in recent years has been their weak power unit. For proof of such a statement, you only have to look at the Grand Prix’s of Canada, Belgium and Italy – three of Formula 1’s most power sensitive tracks. Ferrari are yet to win on all three circuits in the latest Formula 1 era.

But, several sources have claimed that such a problem might not exist in 2018, with news of a power unit which is either fully equal or almost equal with Mercedes.

Ferrari’s power unit hasn’t been close to matching that of Mercedes since the beginning of the V6-Hybrid era in 2014. In fact, most of their race wins have been on high downforce circuits, like Monaco and Hungary – one area where they’ve bettered Mercedes recently.

First signs of such improvements came from respected Italian journalist and Ferrari insider, Leo Turrini. In January, he claimed that this year’s Ferrari power unit was approaching the 1000bhp threshold, a mark that Mercedes had supposably already passed.

Turrini also revealed that the new power unit has been put “on a diet” in an effort to lighten the overall package. “One of Mercedes’ advantages was the lower weight of the overall package,” claimed Turrini, “but Ferrari has been successful in its mission” he says, alluding to a dramatic loss of weight for the Scuderia’s power unit.

Without doubt, these revelations are promising ahead of the first Barcelona test in late February, but, Turrini has only discussed the performance of the power unit. What he hasn’t talked about is the reliability, something which will be extra important in 2018.

Each driver will complete 2018’s 21 race season with just three power units, down from four in 2017. Whichever manufacturer has the most reliable overall package will have the least amount of grid penalties; and such a punishment can leave “a bit of a mountain to climb,” as Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff said back at last year’s Austrian Grand Prix.

But, if the suspicions of Italian journalist Franco Nugnes are correct, then Ferrari will only have smooth, flat roads to drive in 2018. In February, two weeks ahead of the first pre-season test, Nugnes wrote a column for confirming that Ferrari’s dynamometer tests had “hit reliability targets.” Nugnes added to his column that, “The focus on reliability means Ferrari has stepped away from doing anything radical with its engine at this stage of the campaign.”

Power units weren’t a big talking point during the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix (podium pictured), because the circuit’s tight and twisty nature meant that a strong chassis was the key to victory – funnily enough, this is the only circuit Ferrari has won at twice in the V6-Hybrid era.

Nugnes’ claims of reliability have been reiterated by Gene Haas, owner of Ferrari customer team, Haas F1. On the same day that Nugnes published his column, Haas said in an interview that he has “no doubts” that three Ferrari power units will last a season, saying their reliability is in fact “excellent.” Haas explained the reasoning behind the claims, stating, “the more seasons you have with an engine package, the more reliable it’s going to become.”

The team owner also corroborated the earlier claims made by Leo Turrini about the exceptional performance of the new Ferrari power unit. “[Ferrari] are getting about as much performance out of the current dimensional package as you can,” claimed Haas.

He later went onto explain his belief that the Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes power units will begin the season “within a half-a-percent of one other.” Although 2017 showed a major disparity between power units, the FIA, Formula 1’s Governing Body, tweaked regulations back at the beginning of 2017 to convergence power unit performance. Signs of this convergence didn’t appear huge in 2017, but, Haas’ claims suggest that the restrictions may be finally kicking in and limiting the advantage gained by different power units.

So far, we’ve discussed how Ferrari are going to make a ‘quicker’ car, and a ‘more reliable’ one too. Now, there’s also signs to suggest that the overall power unit will get ‘better’ throughout the rest of the season.

The source on these developments is still Franco Nugnes. In the same column as previously discussed, he gave intriguing details about the state of Ferrari’s engine division. Nugnes revealed that Corrado Iotti is reportedly leading a program to introduce a revolutionary cylinder head, which will “help in the pre-combustion phase of the engine cycle.”

Sebastian Vettel (pictured) experienced the consequences of power unit reliability in the latter half of the 2017 seasons. Power unit issues left him last on the Malaysian Grand Prix grid, and a retirement virtue of a spark plug failure left his championship in tatters during the Japanese Grand Prix.

This vision is different to what Ferrari pursued in 2017, when Lorenzo Sassi, the former Head of Ferrari’s engine department, ran a program to introduce 3D-printed pistons with honeycomb design, which, in theory, would’ve dramatically slashed the piston weight without compromising strength. Nugnes said this concept was abandoned “after it failed to deliver what had been hoped.”

This shows that Ferrari are not hung up on an idea that can’t fully materialize. The new direction toward the cylinder head seems to have a bright future too, as Nugnes believes a successful implementation will allow Ferrari to erase “Mercedes’ advantage with ‘magic’ qualifying modes.”

If a ‘better, quicker, and more reliable car’ is simply what Ferrari need to topple Mercedes from their undisputed throne, then by all of these accounts – it could certainly happen. Sure, Italian Journalists love to get really excited about each year’s Ferrari, and Gene Haas will only say good things about Ferrari, especially since he claimed in the same interview: “It’s no secret we use a lot of Ferrari equipment.”

Though, the respective claims of better performance and reliability by Turrini and Nugnes do have some credibility since Gene Haas corroborated both accounts. The argument that Ferrari will gain significant performance from the new cylinder head remains unverified by another source. Plus, 2017’s revolutionary 3D-printed pistons were supposed to be Ferrari’s newest weapon in the fight against Mercedes, but it didn’t even dent the Silver Arrow’s armor.

There’s no definitive way to prove if any of these claims are going to turn the tide in Formula 1’s newest power struggle. That said, it does at least bode well toward another Championship Challenge from Ferrari, considering their car worsened between the 2015 and 16′ seasons.

Ferrari’s newest power unit will make its debut when testing starts on February 26th in Barcelona. The 2018 challenger from Ferrari will be revealed to the world on February 22nd, the same day that Mercedes reveals its titan too.

Ferrari will present it’s newest power unit as a sign of greater strength toward the four year reign of Mercedes. The motorsport world will be watching as the oldest team in Formula 1 try to pull off a spectacular Formula 1 revolution.


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Steven Walton is a 18 year old student currently attending St Andrews College in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was bought up with two older brothers and his big passions are sports (especially motorsport), people and writing.

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