Number 275: The 2016 Preview Issue
There’s always pressure on Ferrari to deliver in Formula 1. It comes with the territory when you’re the oldest, most storied and charismatic marque in the ultimate motorsports arena. Yet heading into the 2016 season, that pressure somehow seems heightened – like progress in itself isn’t enough, and only a genuine title challenge will dial back the thermostat.
Problem is, Ferrari’s SF16-H is chasing a moving target in Mercedes. And while the Prancing Horse may have found the 0.0X percent improvement necessary to put it on a par with the Silver
Arrows, circa 2015, it’s a massively bigger ask to expect it to also find the 0.0Y percent that Mercedes undoubtedly found during development of its F1 W07 Hybrid.
But that’s the nature of progress in modern F1. The restrictive framework of the rules means that chassis and aero performance gains are an accumulation of miniscule improvements (or “mini revolutions,” as Mercedes’ tech chief Paddy Lowe calls the barely-recognizable tweaks on W07), with the bigger teams’ defense contractor-sized design departments shaving off the next tenth – or hundredth – by endless iterations on a theme. Sure, the relative freshness of the current hybrid power unit regs and the relaxing of the token system mean there’s still potential for meaningful gains on the motive side. But when it comes to actual car design, there’s little place for a Colin Chapman (or even the next Adrian Newey) in current F1, where quantum leaps are pretty much the past.
Which is why Haas F1’s approach to its debut season is so inspired and, based on pre-season testing, potentially effective. Why would you spend inordinate amounts on trying to catch a moving target when the alternative is to purchase a known level of performance off the shelf? Yes, that implies a ceiling on the VF-16’s ultimate potential, but is that such a bad thing for now? Get some points, get established, and save the endless iterations for later.