With the Formula 1 engine freeze of 2022 six months away, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto is confident that they have made a breakthrough with their Power Unit in 2021 and promises more performance to be unleashed in 2022.
Winless since Sebastian Vettel triumphed at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix, but since then the German was dismissed from Maranello and found refuge at Silverstone-based Aston Martin.
Also disappearing – after an incredible spell in 2019 in which Charles Leclerc added two victories that season – was the performance when the Italian team was nabbed apparently breaking the rules. A secret deal with the FIA brought the PU into check, but it was never the same again.
2020 was a toil for F1’s most successful team fallen on hard times. They finished sixth in the constructors’ championship that year.
But 2021 was better, and in fact, got better and better with every race, so much so Leclerc and Carlos Sainz managed to secure third in the 2021 F1 constructors’ title race, overcoming a similarly resurgent McLaren team.
Their great rivals are also on the up, both grand teams eager to again challenge for F1 world championships at the highest level.
Thus this past season Ferrari focussed all energy on developing the PU since the start of the season, with an eye on 2022. Chassis and aero, the last of this rules generation were mostly ignored to allow maximum focus on developing the ‘Superfast’ engine package.
Binotto: I think we’ve made a big step in PU
Speaking to Motorsport-Magazin, Binotto explained the change of the backroom strategy: “Originally it was our intention to use this power unit, which we are developing for 2022, in the last races of the season, for example in the last three races.
But after the summer break, much earlier than expected, Ferrari began work on the new engine bolted to the SF21 and, according to Binotto, this was an important factor: “I think we’ve made a big step in PU.
“Because if you compare it to the past, in 2020 the Power Unit was our big weakness and we were a long way behind. If you look at where we are today, then the developments are obvious.”
Indeed, the newfound power allowed Ferrari to gain the upper hand over McLaren in the latter half of the season. While the British team scored a famous one-two, painfully on Red home soil – at Monza – the Italian team was more reliable, but in the end, they saw off the challenge to take third.
Binotto reflected on the upsurge in fortunes: “The fact that we manage to do this, eight races before the end, was a great achievement by the team, which felt the pressure working as hard as it could to introduce the engine as early as possible.”
Binotto: I’m pretty sure that we can make further improvements
In what will be music to Tifosi ears, there is still more to come from the package in the months remaining to develop before the freeze, Binotto added: “I’m pretty sure that we can make further improvements.
And the Ferrari team principal promised: “What I can say about the 2022 Power Unit is: Believe me, there is a lot of innovation in it.”
ScuderiaFans shed light on the situation: “The Maranello team’s engineers have decided to enter the new era of F1 with a power unit that will be very innovative: beyond the architecture of the supercharging system that will see the separation of turbine and compressor, following a concept well tested by Mercedes during the hybrid years.
“There is the ambition to introduce the compressor inside the intake box, with an unprecedented configuration of the upper part of the endothermic 6-cylinder that will also greatly favour aerodynamics.
“The group of technicians headed by Wolf Zimmermann who deals with advanced solutions, has also studied a version that has been defined as ‘Superfast’ because it will adopt a combustion chamber capable of ensuring a phase of explosion with very fast ignition times, getting closer and closer to the principles known in diesel engines, without arriving at the HCCI solution that could easily do without the spark plug to ignite the spark.
“With the ‘Superfast’ engine, Ferrari should improve combustion thanks to turbulent motions that can positively influence the speed of flame propagation, giving more homogeneity to the air-petrol mixture and to the combustion phase.”
In reality, bench tests carried out so far on ‘Superfast’ have given discordant results both in terms of performance and reliability
“In Maranello, they are convinced that the solution is right for the future, but the time available for development is not much and we must not take risks if the 2022 unit will have to undergo a freeze without the possibility of development until 2024.
“It is for this reason that Enrico Gualtieri, head of engine engineers, would have decided to keep the innovation in the upper part of the engine (the compressor in the intake box), but to launch a more traditional combustion chamber that starts from the solutions developed to date.
“As the bench tests are limited by regulation, there will be time until June to carry out the two combustion chamber options in parallel, but the definitive configuration will have to be chosen by the beginning of the summer.
“The feeling is that the version of the 6-cylinder ‘Superfast’ can be put in a drawer even for the turn that the rules are taking.”
Formula 1 needs a strong Ferrari sooner rather than later
The Scuderia Fans report continues: “Ferrari has always been at the forefront of launching innovative ideas in F1, but the ambitions of the technicians must be recalibrated according to the moment conditioned by the effects of the Covid pandemic that have imposed very heavy constraints on the design imagination.
“Having a revolutionary power unit that fails to be completed in time for next year is a risk that they cannot afford to take in Maranello. It’s right, therefore, to have foreseen a parachute.”
While F1 wallows in newfound energy and popularity thanks to an epic 2021 season between newly crowned F1 World Champion Max Verstappen and defeated Lewis Hamilton, the reality is with Ferrari in the mix that audience would receive a massive boost.
With the new rules package intent on narrowing the gap between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’ which Ferrari, under Binotto, are expected to be players again. F1 needs a strong Ferrari, a winning Ferrari, sooner rather than later. Hopefully ‘Superfast’ does the business this forthcoming season.