Ferrari F2004 vs. Mercedes W11: Comparing the best F1 cars of their time

(Motorsport-Total.com) – For the first time since 2013, Formula 1 will return to the Nürburgring in 2020. And records are expected. It is time for that too, after all, the track record dates back to 2004 – the fastest season in Formula 1, until the cars were made significantly faster in 2017.

Ferrari F2004

The Ferrari F2004 drove everything in the ground at the time

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That year, Takuma Sato set the course record of 1: 27,691 minutes that is still valid today in BAR 006. This was achieved in the pre-qualifying at that time – an individual time trial that determined the starting order for the actual qualifying, but which then had to be completed with the amount of fuel for the first stint of the race.

The teams’ current calculations range from times very close to Sato’s record to lap times two seconds faster. In addition, Lewis Hamilton can set the record of 91 Grand Prix victories for Michael Schumacher with a victory at the Nürburgring.


Photos: Grand Prix of the Eifel


Reason enough to take a fascinating look at the best packages from the 2004 and 2020 vintages. Although they achieve similar lap times, the vehicles have changed completely. What does the dominant combination of the 2020 Formula 1 season, i.e. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, look like compared to its counterpart in the 2004 season, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari?

Uncompromising Daredevil vs. tall all-rounder

First to the numbers: The Ferrari F2004 achieved 15 wins, twelve pole positions and 14 fastest laps from 20 races, including the two less successful outings at the beginning of 2005, including the regulations. The W11 has eight race wins, ten pole positions and six fastest laps from nine of 17 races so far.

The differences are huge: The F2004 is basically a qualifying car that was driven to the absolute limit in short stints between several refueling stops. It is therefore very compact. In contrast, today’s vehicles look almost like limousines.

The Ferrari F2004 has a 700 millimeter shorter wheelbase and is even more than 1.2 meters shorter than the W11. The vehicles are now two meters wide again, while the F2004 fell during the period of the limitation to 1,800 millimeters, which applied between 1998 and 2016.

Ferrari F2004, radiator

The naturally aspirated V10 engine developed around 900 hp at 19,000 revolutions per minute

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Some of these dimensions are given by the regulations. For example, the designers had to build in more robust crash structures, which were introduced in 2017 in combination with the greater width.

The designers themselves made the decision to make the cars longer and longer. They prefer longer cars because of their aerodynamic performance.

Heavier, yet much more efficient

There are also significant differences in weight: the W11 carries around 745 kilograms, while the F2004 weighs just 605 kilograms. Some of the extra weight is due to safety features like Halo. Most of this, however, goes back to the V6 turbo engine with its hybrid components, while the V10 naturally aspirated engine is significantly lighter.

It may seem strange that the weight has increased so much. It should be noted, however, that the current drive units have a mileage of more than 6,000 kilometers and generate around 1,000 hp. The V10 had around 100 hp less and only lasted around 800 kilometers.

The sprite efficiency has also been significantly improved. The V6 turbo hybrids are allowed to burn a maximum of 110 kilograms of gasoline in one race. Most of the time, this limit is not even reached. The F2004, on the other hand, required around 180 kilograms of fuel for a race distance.

Mercedes PU106, drive unit, motor, power unit

The modern drive unit is an efficiency marvel compared to the V10

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An innovation of the F2004 was a gearbox with a titanium bell plus a carbon fiber skin. This concept is an integral part of the DNA of today’s vehicles.

Cassette transmissions with eight forward gears are now installed. These make it possible to survive seven races even in the event of damage without incurring a grid penalty for a gear change.

In 2004 the rules were less strict, but even then the engine and transmission had to hold a full race weekend. In addition, the FIA ​​had just banned preprogrammed, fully automatic downshifts. The drivers had to use the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel again.

Launch control was also banned in 2004 as part of the measures introduced in 2003. Nevertheless, the drivers had far more help available than they do today, where they have to find the point of contact of the clutch themselves. The standardized electronics used since 2008 make it possible.

Tires: a difference like day and night

The Ferrari F2004 was equipped with Bridgestone grooved tires. Since Michelin also supplied teams, there was a tire war that marked the time. Bridgestone gave Ferrari their own mixes for each individual route, giving them an advantage over all other Bridgestone teams.

Ferrari F2004, gearbox

Standard today, a sensation in 2004: gearbox in a titanium housing

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On the other hand, Pirelli is currently a standard equipment supplier who supplies all teams with the same three compounds per weekend that wear out quickly due to FIA specifications. In 2020, Pirelli also has control over how many slicks a compound delivers. Before that, the teams could determine that themselves.

The philosophies of Ferrari F2004 and Mercedes W11 could hardly be more different. But both push the technical possibilities and the regulations of their time to the limit.

So it will be exciting to see whether the current Formula 1 cars on the Nürburgring will be faster than Takuma Sato’s record. Ultimately, the Eifen weather also plays a significant role.

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