The technical director plays a crucial role in ensuring the success of a racing or Formula 1 team. Multidisciplinary experience, coordination skills, leadership and technical skills make the difference and can turn a good project into a winning one. Ferdinando Cannizzo is Head of GT Racing Car Design and Development in Attività Sportive GT. In other words, he is the technical director of Ferrari Competizioni GT. An aeronautical engineer, who graduated from the University of Pisa and has a great passion for mathematics and sport, he has worked at Ferrari since 1996 when he joined the Scuderia as an aerodynamic engineer. Over the years, Ferdinando gradually gained experience to become head of aerodynamics of Formula 1 single-seaters before moving on to GT cars. After covering the role, among others, of head of vehicle innovation, since 2016 he has been the technical director of Competizioni GT. It is he who will guide us on our journey of discovery of the department that has created, among others, the 488 GTE and GT3 that vanquish their rivals on circuits around the world.
Q: What prompted your passion for motorsport?
A: “Ever since I was little, my father encouraged my love for sport and especially football, a passion that continues to this day. The one for motorsport came a little later thanks to a very dear friend of mine, a secondary school and university classmate with whom I read the specialist magazines. Every week we read about His and Ducarouge, Villeneuve, Arnoux, Alesi and Alboreto. Together we experienced Ferrari’s dark period in the 1980s. But we didn’t miss a GP!”
Q: What was your greatest satisfaction in Formula 1?
A: “I’ll never forget either Schumacher’s first victory in Barcelona in 1996 in the rain or the first World Constructors’ Championship win. My greatest satisfaction is certainly to have put my stamp on an unforgettable period for Ferrari but above all the design of the F1 2004 which remains for me – and perhaps for many – one of the best F1 cars of all time”.
Q: What did Formula 1 teach you?
A: “An unparalleled experience, determination and spirit of sacrifice, never giving up even when everything seems impossible, and the awareness that performance and victories are constructed with excellence in every detail, and that challenges must be faced with humility and respect for opponents”.
Q: Moving on to the present, what makes you proud of the 488 GTE and 488 GT3?
A: “Undoubtedly the Le Mans victory with the GTE in 2019: not only the victory itself, but also and above all for having successfully overcome the disappointment and frustration of 2017. It wasn’t easy, but in the end, the group believed in it, sacrificed themselves and worked cohesively for nine months with one aim in mind: to mount the top step of the podium”.
Q: In what does your job consist?
A: “I coordinate the definition, design and development of Ferrari racing GTs, specifically the 488 GTE and the 488 GT3 with particular attention to the engine, gearbox, chassis, suspension, brakes, cooling systems, electronics and car controls, aerodynamics, and tyres”.
Q: What does it mean to define, design and develop a Ferrari racing car?
A: “The definition of the car starts with the analysis of the reference car. In our case this was the Ferrari 488, stripped of everything. So, we start from the bare chassis. We then cross-reference this analysis with the requirements set by the regulations of the championships in which the car will compete and those defined by Ferrari. These requirements are very detailed and include the parameters for minimum weight, weight distribution, height of the centre of gravity, vehicle aerodynamics and dynamics, cooling systems. Different vehicle concepts are analysed, variously combining these requirements according to the constraints and the degrees of freedom offered by the technical regulation.
Through this complex cross-referencing, we define the main technical characteristics of the car in terms of layout, wheelbase, suspension kinematics and aerodynamics. The same holds for the engine: starting with the main castings, accessories, crankshaft, turbochargers and other parts are redesigned to adapt power, fuel consumption and reliability to the needs of endurance racing. As the regulations allow, we then redesign the transmission from scratch to minimise weight, dimensions, and to balance the gears to suit the tracks of the various championships.
During this phase, simulations of aerodynamics [see also the dedicated Tech Insight, Editor’s note.], vehicle dynamics and simulator driving sessions are essential tools to contain time and costs but above all to identify areas of weakness in the car in need of improvement“.
Q: The tyres and development tests also play an important part…
A: “Intimate knowledge and development of tyres is an integral part of the design and development of a car, in particular for championships where tyre development is free like the FIA WEC. We carry out many track tests are carried out between seasons for the continuous improvement of the car“.
Q: A non-stop job that requires a very well structured team…
A: “To oversee all these activities, the department is organised to cover and monitor all the main areas of expertise: aerodynamics, engine, transmission, vehicle, electronics and controls, vehicle dynamics and driving simulations. Ours being a small team, the operational work is shared with a long-term engineering partner for design and development, the Michelotto workshop.
My responsibility is to keep the skills level high in all these areas and to direct the work of the resources involved in the various development projects for current and future cars, in the relations with the sports federations for the definition and modification of technical regulations, and the conceptual analysis of new opportunities, in operations in tests and races”.
Q: How do you deal with the various championship organisers?
A: “The maintenance of continuous and positive relations with the relevant federations for the type-approval of the car, the evolution of technical regulations, the definition of criteria and the evolution of the balance of performance are fundamental. All this requires daily commitment. This is why we dedicate resources specifically to this function. Together with our technical partner, they take care of the relations with the bodies in charge.
It is a complex and multifaceted job because it does not only concern institutional relations which are the responsibility of the sporting part of the organisation, but also the Technical Working Groups – both for GTE and GT3 class cars – the FIA sporting committee and all the Technical Advisory Group Meetings to define he new technical regulations”.
Q: How does your department follow track activities?
A: “In every championship, we try to support our teams with technical analyses and strategies. In the FIA WEC we are personally involved and perfectly integrated with the AF Corse team to coordinate the track operations of the LMGTE Pro class cars, to carry out the technical analysis and define the race strategy. Also, our engineering team obviously supports the teams that compete with Ferraris in all the other championships, such as the IMSA championship in the United States, or special races such as the 24 Hours of Spa”.