The 2013 Formula One racing season begins March 17 at Albert Park in Melbourne in front of a crowd likely to include around 330,000 race fans at the Australian Grand Prix. With only minor changes made in the Formula One regulations for this year, the differences between the F2012 and Ferrari's 2013 entry, the F138, are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But even though the casual eye will not perceive a great deal of difference in the F138, most of the parts and systems have been revised to maximize performance while maintaining Ferrari's admirable reliability.
Beginning with the external elements, the widely-hated stepped nose of the F2012's front air intake has been partially blocked off on the F138 by a "vanity panel," which is claimed to improve the aerodynamics of the car as well as its appearance. However, the most significant changes are found at the rear of the car, which is narrower and more tapered than the F2012.
The aerodynamics of the F138 are still a work in progress, with wind tunnel testing expected to continue at least up to the starting gate of the Australian Grand Prix testing runs. The front and rear wings of the F138 have approximately the same configuration as appeared on the F2012 late in last year's season. Underneath the car, the front and rear pull-rod activated torque springs suspension is still supporting the F138, but has been tuned to slightly raise the car under some circumstances to improve its aerodynamics.
The engine is the naturally aspirated Ferrari 2.4 liter 056, which has been used in one form or another since V8s were mandated by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) in 2006. 2013 is the last year this stalwart engine will be used in Formula One competition, as the FIA, following its adoption of "green" principles, has decided to change to turbocharged 1.6 liter V6 engines in 2014.
One general complaint about recent Formula One racing is that the cars have a great deal of trouble passing on the track, resulting in dull races for the spectators. In response, the rules were changed to increase speed in the straightaways. The F138 has an active drag reduction system (ADRS), which is controlled by the driver to reduce the down pressure from the wings in straightaways. Essentially, the wings are made to stall, which reduces the rolling friction of the car and the drag from the wing to provide a speed increase in straightaways of about 9-10 mph (14-16 km/h).
As always, Ferrari's competition on the track has also been fine-tuning their Formula One cars. When the margin between winning an hour and a half long race is a few seconds, a speed increase of a twentieth of a mph (roughly a garden snail's pace) can reverse the outcome. We'll be watching.