In Formula 1 it is a continuous testing ground for the engineers, who are always pushed to make improvements to the cars over the years.
It is not always easy, especially when you are back from years of undisputed success. Still, there are episodes in which a particular team has managed not only to outdo the others, but even itself, improving performance significantly compared to the previous season.
This is the case of Ferrari, which in 2004 took to the track with a legendary single-seater, known by all fans and still capable of giving goosebumps to the Prancing Horse fans: the F2004, the fiftieth single-seater fielded by the Prancing Horse in Formula 1.
The new resolutions for 2004 and the new regulations
Despite the double world title won the year before, Ross Brawn realizes that the F2003-GA has been squeezed to the bottom, and that therefore the potential of the car used in 2003 has now reached its limit. To all this it must be added that BMW-Williams and McLaren-Mercedes have significantly reduced the gap with the Ferrari, so much so that Schumacher wins his sixth world title with only two points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Basically, in Maranello it is understood that to win in 2004 too, the Kaiser and Rubens Barrichello must be supplied with a highly competitive and considerably revolutionized single-seater.
In the same year, the rule that requires the use of only one engine during the race weekend comes into force: from Friday morning, when free practice begins, until the end of the race on Sunday, each Circus driver must use only one engine, avoiding a penalty of ten positions on the starting grid.
A race against time
The F2004 was presented on January 26, 2004, thus anticipating the period in which Ferrari was used to unveiling its cars.
Never before in Maranello has there been such a frenzy in putting the new car on the track, not only to allow the wind tunnel specialists to develop new aerodynamic solutions, but to be sure not to start the 2004 season with the car of the previous year.
As stated by Ross Brawn, at Ferrari they calculate all the risks, but it is essential to show up in Melbourne with the F2004, especially since the new 053 engine cannot be fitted to the F2003-GA.
The new 053 engine
Already with the Ferrari engine he manages to take a clear step forward: the 053-engine designed by Ferrari engineers is able to bring 915 hp to the race fields at 19.100 rpm, without the Italian V10 engine accusing the slightest reliability problem, starting from the first seasonal appointment in Australia. This is a more than remarkable aspect, given that other manufacturers, on the other hand, in the early part of 2004, to complete the planned distance of the Grand Prix with a single drive unit, are forced to limit the sessions in free practice on Friday to save kilometers ahead of the race.
But paradoxically, everyone in the Circus is surprised not so much by the reliability and power of the V10 engine, but by its weight: the 053 weighs just 91 kg, and therefore, in addition to being efficient and resistant, it is also incredibly light.
The F2004 is completely redesigned
At the presentation of the F2004, many say that visually the new car appears to be very similar to the F2003-GA. The response from Rory Byrne, designer of Ferrari, came not long in coming, stating that the new car does not even have a single bolt that remained identical to the previous version.
Byrne has chosen to build an extreme single-seater in some areas: the F2004 is very small, compact, with many miniaturized solutions that represent a miracle of modern engineering. The basic idea is to create a qualifying single-seater, designed to perform short runs, following multi-stop strategies during all Grand Prix, thanks also to the new speed limit imposed in the pit lane, no longer at 80 km/h, but at 100 km/h, which would have reduced the time lost to make every single tire change.
The Japanese of Bridgestone adapt to these choices, approving tires with softer compounds, capable of guaranteeing greater grip on the F2004. Thanks to working closely with the Japanese, Ferrari technicians are able to make small changes to the geometric measurements of the new car, shortening the wheelbase by 50 millimeters and moving the masses more on the front, thus ensuring a sensational balance for the F2004.
Focusing on a race tactic with multiple pit stops can also give aerodynamic advantages: with frequent refuelling, the fuel tank capacity is reduced to 90 liters. In addition to lowering the center of gravity of the car downwards, the result was obtained of freeing flows to evacuate the hot air from the radiators placed in the sides.
It all leads to a smaller design of the bellies, which have consequently become more aerodynamically efficient. The new design of the vents, known for having the shape of an entrance step, allows the technicians to better separate the air, conveyed in the rear diffuser, thus generating the aerodynamic load on the rear.
Even the seven-speed longitudinal gearbox is completely revised: the box made of cast titanium is surmounted by a layer of carbon, designed for a double function: in addition to stiffening the structure in the area where the suspension attachments are located, it protects the box by the high temperatures generated by the exhaust gases that come out of the exhaust chimneys.
The F2004, a car too fast...even for the Red team technicians
The Formula 1 teams today can boast modern simulators capable of faithfully replicating the values of the single-seaters on the track, but at the time the only real reference on which the teams could count was the chronometric feedback obtained on the track.
For this reason, Ferrari organizes a test in Imola, with the idea that the F2004 would be faster than the F2003-GA by about half a second. Compared to the times obtained with the 2003 car, however, the new car turns out to be two seconds faster.
The times impress the Ferrari technicians, who initially do not believe the data obtained, convinced that the times are not true, due to a problem to be identified. There is even a hypothesis of an anomaly with the timing system.
But both drivers affirm that the speed of the F2004 is impressive: Barrichello, after having tested the car at Mugello, declares that the new Ferrari is the only one able to travel with the accelerator fully open to the fearsome curves of the Angry.
And if the single lap times impress, the pace generates amazement and disbelief among the men of Ferrari. But in the end the track confirms the results seen in the pre-season, also thanks to the disappointing performance of Williams and McLaren: out of 18 races, Ferrari wins 15, with 8 braces and 12 pole positions conquered.
Not surprisingly, 2004 still represents one of the most dominant seasons in Ferrari history, with which the Maranello team won both titles.
Simone Pietro Zazza