The Scuderia Ferrari are packing up after a horrendous Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps and heading dejectedly to Monza – with the prospect of as bad or worse performance next week. The official media coverage keeps talking about the mysterious downturn of performance by the team since last year. But it really is no mystery at all, they’re just not allowed to tell the truth, Ferrari were cheating.
“Bending the rules” is nothing new in Formula One and many teams have been found guilty of taking advantage of grey areas or loopholes in the rule book, like Mercedes’ DAS system. Some have flat out cheated, like BAR’s second fuel tank in 2005.
2018: Second Wind
But now let’s go back to early 2018 when things with the team from Maranello started looking a little shady. The scarlet car was very fast but errors by the team and the drivers, as well as some unreliability cost them the World Championship. For some of the teams, the SF71H was just a little too fast down the straights, getting almost a second wind on long straights when their rivals acceleration began to retard.
Mercedes and Renault, in particular, questioned whether Ferrari were staying within the permitted battery output on the hybrid power units or the fuel flow limits on the internal combustion engine. The FIA insisted that everything was legal with the dual-battery system employed by Ferrari, but bowed to pressure and installed a secondary energy flow monitoring sensor on the power unit mid-season. Strangely, the rival team’s GPS data didn’t detect that “second wind” acceleration anymore.
2019: More Speed
When preseason testing kicked off in Barcelona the teams using the Ferrari power unit showed great straight line speed – a pure engine power advantage. Though they were finishing the races behind Mercedes and at times Red Bull-Honda, Renault started to openly question the Italian engine’s performance by mid-year.
When the F1 circus reformed after the summer hiatus, the Scuderia reeled off three wins and six pole positions in a row. The little Haas-Ferrari team even claimed the fastest lap in Singapore. Once again the rival teams questioned whether both the battery output limit and the internal combustion fuel flow limit where being exceeded by Ferrari. Red Bull-Honda queried the FIA in Belgium as to the Ferrari engine’s legality.
Before the United States Grand Prix in early November the FIA issued a technical directive regarding the fuel flow sensor on power units. Suddenly the Ferrari-engined cars were way down the list in the speed traps…
Before the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the FIA announced it had seized an example of the Ferrari power unit for further analysis, following the finding of a fuel discrepancy on Charles Leclerc’s car. The other teams beamed in anticipation.
2020: The Deal
At the conclusion of the last day of preseason testing in February the FIA announced a settlement with Ferrari regarding its 2019 power unit. It also invoked Article IV (ii) of its Judicial and Disciplinary Rules allowing it to make a confidential agreement.
“…after thorough technical investigations, it has concluded its analysis of the operation of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit and reached a settlement with the team. The specifics of the agreement will remain between the parties.”
Translation: We caught them cheating but we aren’t going to tell you what they did.
The seven teams not using Ferrari power units threatened legal action in an effort to have the details released. Then the F1 world was upended by COVID-19 and the issued faded away from public view, as mere survival of teams – and the sport itself – became paramount.
When the season finally got underway at the Red Bull Ring in July, Charles Leclerc qualified 7th – over a second off the pace of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas – and Sebastien Vettel didn’t make it out of Q2. Quite the difference from 2019 when Ferrari took 9 pole positions, 6 fastest race laps and 3 wins. Leclerc would take advantage of rivals misfortunes and the ensuing safety cars to finish third, which thanks to a Lewis Hamilton time penalty promoted him to second. It may prove to be the high point of his season thus far.
Since Liberty Media purchased Formula One it has wanted to even the playing field to improve The Show. Give the little teams more money and rein in the spending of the Big Three (Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull).
F1’s controlling document, The Concorde Agreement, gave huge “historical payments” and some veto power to Ferrari, simply for being the oldest team in the sport – courtesy of Bernie Ecclestone’s wheeling and dealing – but it expired December 2020.
It makes a lot of sense that Liberty took advantage of this “confidential agreement” to put pressure on Ferrari to accept the new rules in exchange for discretion, which the Italian team agreed to August 18th 2020.
The new agreement covers the 2021 to 2025 seasons and comes into force January 1st 2021. Don’t expect Ferrari to win a race before then.