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Tech F1i - Japanese GP Analysis

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Last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix saw Ferrari’s poor engine reliability thwart Sebastian Vettel’s progress for the second race weekend in a row. F1i’s Nicolas Carpentiers takes a closer look under the skin of the SF70H while also reviewing the technical concepts on display at Suzuka: from Renault’s updated engine cover to Williams’ low-downforce rear wing and Force India’s ‘monkey seat’ winglet.

FERRARI FAILS TO SPARK TITLE CHASE

For the second Grand Prix weekend in succession, Sebastian Vettel was let down by an engine-related reliability issue on his Ferrari.

In Malaysia, the problem found its root cause in the pipework connecting the compressor to the intercooler (see white arrow on the image below). When compressed, the air gets hotter and needs cooling before entering the inlet manifold.

On Ferrari’s 062 power unit, the pipework channels the hot and compressed air from the compressor to the water-to-water intercooler mounted on top of the rear part of the engine plant. In Sepang, that metal pipe would have cracked, leaving Vettel, on his fourth internal combustion engine (ICE) of the year, without any power in qualifying, and forcing Raikkonen, on his third ICE, to retire on his way to the grid.

While the exact cause of the issue remains unknown, the problem could be due to the vibrations of the new intercooler, which sits nearby and was introduced on the SF70H in Malaysia. In order to avoid any repeat of the situation, the Scuderia has already moved to strengthen its quality control department.

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In Japan, Vettel’s progress was ruined by a faulty spark plug (these are located in the area shown by the yellow arrow on the image above). Ferrari only noticed the issue when the car left the garage to make its way onto the grid, and the mechanics did not have enough time to replace the defective plug before the start of the Grand Prix. Although the four-time world champion was able to launch his race, he could only manage four laps with a down-on-power engine map before having to retire the car.

Spark plugs on the Ferrari engines have been supplied by the NGK group, whose parent company is based in Japan. On the current breed of hybrid power units, each spark plug has its own coil and can produce up to 125 sparks per second. The element is designed to withstand high stress, vibrations and temperatures but it ended up costing Vettel crucial championship points.