Following the crisis of the early nineties from 1996 Ferrari applied even more energy to the restructuring of the Formula 1 team. Michael Schumacher had joined the team as a driver and in July of that year work began on the construction of the Scuderia’s new wind tunnel. The wind tunnel was an increasingly important tool in modern Formula 1, and indeed today, with track tests reduced to a minimum, it has actually become essential.
The wind tunnel is needed to simulate how a car handles on a road in every way. One limit of the installations back then, was size. Indeed, it was often necessary to work with car models of just a third of actual size. However, Ferrari wasn’t going to cut corners and wanted a facility that could work with 1:2 scale models, 50% of actual size, but also 1:1, with full-size single-seaters and road cars. The work took a year and a half and while obviously the primary aim of a wind tunnel is efficiency, it is equally true that Ferrari, the icon of style, would hardly settle for a conventional and inelegant structure. So the project thus came to involve one of the world’s most famous architects, an Italian and native of Genoa, Renzo Piano. The giant simulator stands on undulating ground in the area where the new Ferrari citadel was to be constructed, with beautifully designed and highly efficient buildings. Piano decided to leave the structure exposed to bring out its technical components, such as the engines required to generate the airflow, conceiving the tunnel as a giant tubular duct closed at each end by a C-section, 80 by 70 metres…
As already said, the new wind tunnel can handle 1:2 models, simulating speeds approaching 250 km/h, or it can accommodate the real car itself (1:1 model) at speeds of up to 150 km/h. The electrical substation that feeds the system contains 6000 kW installations, enough power to light about 2000 apartments. The fan is about five metres in diameter and is equipped with a 2200 kW turbine, the equivalent of five Formula 1 engines. The instrumentation has a maximum margin of error of 0.04%, and it cost more than 16 billion lire, about 8 million euros.
The facility opened in 1998 and is mainly used for the development of Formula 1 cars. The F300 of that year only partially took advantage of that system, while the first car to make full use of the new wind tunnel was the F399 that, in 1999, won the Constructors’ title. Over the following years, the Renzo Piano wind tunnel proved to be one of the key components of Scuderia Ferrari’s golden era in Formula 1.