The double retirement in Baku officially opens up the reliability issue as far as the Ferrari Power Unit is concerned. This topic, however, is not something underestimated in Maranello, where they have always been confident that they have met their performance targets, while the PU2 reliability upgrade is not yielding the desired results.
The Baku Grand Prix ended as badly as it could have for Ferrari, with two retirements and a Power Unit gone up in smoke. Saturday had confirmed the F1-75's progress after the upgrades in Spain, which had also worked best here and provided further positive answers to the Maranello technical team. The rear wing made its debut brilliantly, giving Ferrari a speed some 7km/h higher than the specification used in Jeddah and Miami - as analyzed after Qualifying.
Unfortunately, all the positive assumptions literally went up in smoke with the retirement of the two Ferraris. An alarm bell had already sounded when Carlos Sainz was forced to park his F1-75 in Turn 4, but everything came crashing down when Charles Leclerc also had to retire, as race leader, with a smoking engine. Two very different technical problems, which do not reassure Maranello, but which are not a total surprise to those who studied, worked out and developed this project.
Objective number 1 was to regain performance.
Already during the winter on these pages we had talked about how Maranello's focus was all about improving the internal combustion engine in order to reduce the gap from the top teams - Red Bull and Mercedes in 2021 - if not even create an advantage at the engine level. Last year the gap was around 15-20hp during the season - between the debut of the PU and the later upgrade of the hybrid. The goal has fully succeeded because today, with the units frozen in the thermal part, Ferrari enjoys an advantage of around 5/10hp over its nearest competitor, namely Honda.
Power Unit 2 is not meeting expectations regarding reliability
Ferrari's start to the season was very promising, but at Maranello they never deluded themselves or relaxed after the good feedback the first few races brought and continued to work tirelessly. The results were seen with the aerodynamic upgrades in Barcelona, while the failures have caused the Redhead to lose huge amounts of points in these last races. Charles Leclerc in fact between Spain and Baku left 50 points on the field. In this case Carlos Sainz also paid the price in a weekend that was finally seeing him gain more confidence with the car that instead betrayed him after very few laps, in which he had limited himself to tire management and was ready to push. Not a lucky moment for him for sure, but for both Ferrari drivers.
The dilemma at Maranello now, however, concerns the Power Unit 2 that was introduced at Imola on Carlos Sainz and in Miami on Charles Leclerc's car. Ferrari, with the approval of the FIA, had intervened on the ICE component to improve reliability, which has always been an internal issue within the team, but which has now come out forcefully and is not only hurting the factory team, but also the customer teams, who have not hidden a bit of discontent in the last few rounds. As Binotto said post-race, cases should always be analyzed individually as some of them may not be strictly related to the power unit.
Since the introduction of this new element there have been as many as two retirements - due to overheating in Spain while here we will have to wait to analyze at home. The Power Unit 2 will reportedly no longer be recoverable for Charles Leclerc.
Ferrari will take its time to proceed with the analysis after this back to back; time is short and the cars will be sent directly to Montreal where of course the engine will be replaced. In Canada, in fact, Ferrari will use the third unit, albeit with a doubt: will it be specification 1 or the specification with reinforced ICE, which, however, is not yielding the desired results at the moment?
Charles Leclerc's problem seems to be related precisely to the ICE, while as for Carlos Sainz's premature retirement, here the engineers' attention shifts to the brake-by-wire and the hydraulic part of the car that stopped the Spaniard. Something, however, that we are told also involved the gearbox.
Some engineers are concerned that the various faults may also be part of a single theme, namely overheating. The Pu1 in fact, as long as it has been used, has never run in the hot conditions found for example in Miami, Spain or here in Baku. In Bahrain the race time helped, as did in Jeddah. While in Melbourne everything went according to plan, however, the data are insufficient to have a clear answer on the issue.
ERS upgrade postponed to work on reliability
The latest problems that have arisen push Ferrari even more to confirm what was a long-standing decision. The upgrade to the ERS-that is, to the hybrid part of the engine that will undergo the freeze in early September-will be postponed as long as possible in order to now focus on solving the problems on the current engine.
It was always clear in Maranello that performance was not an issue, but that reliability could be. So, at the factory, they are using all available dyno time and every resource to get to the goal.
In Ferrari they had already decided at the beginning of the year to accept the penalty and take advantage of 4 engines to approach the season aggressively. It is evident having arrived at this point that the decision will be confirmed, with the use of even an additional PU then during the course of the season, going more and more to 'emulate' what was the Mercedes strategy in 2021 to extract the maximum potential from their engines, which were suffering from degradation.