In this 2019 season we have had two weeks of winter testing in Barcelona, the race in Melbourne and then in Bahrain, and the picture has been rather confused as everyone tries to work out who has done the best job.
Obvious early signs showed that Ferrari was the quickest in winter testing, and Mercedes strangely slow. The Silver Arrows were clearly being very conservative in Barcelona as now the season has kicked off, the team has picked up their pace significantly. Many have declared they were sandbagging (purposely not revealing their true pace).
Despite Ferrari’s defeat in Melbourne, Mercedes still maintained that the Ferrari was quick but was simply not showing it. During the race, pundits and writers from publications such as Autosport certainly felt that Ferrari must have something on the table, but wasn’t able to deliver it.
After the race, TJ13 believed at the time that a degree of cooling problems that stunted the team’s ability to unleash full power. But since the Bahrain Grand Prix, a new dimension has been added and Ferrari has shocked the other teams with significant pace on the straights.
According to Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel gained 4 tenths of a second over Mercedes on the four straights of the 5.412-kilometer Sakhir circuit, a staggering pace advantage.
“Under these circumstances, it will be difficult to beat them” says Toto Wolff, “No one else can keep up,”.
Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto claimed after the race that Mercedes were running more downforce and therefore lost out to Ferrari on the straights but Toto Wolff says otherwise saying it’s simply down to “sheer engine power.” and their Chief Engineer Andrew Shovlin concurs saying that “We observe the phenomenon equally well on straights with and without DRS. So this has little to do with the downforce Ferrari chose to run.”
During the weekend, AMuS published their GPS comparison data of six teams in qualifying at Bahrain and it shows that Ferrari way out ahead on the straights with a surprise showing for McLaren in second place suggesting that Renault has found some improvements and McLaren has produced a ‘slippery’ car. That said, their cars still lose three tenths to Ferrari at full throttle and Red Bull Honda lose at least six tenth, making it potentially dismal year for Max Verstappen.
Further revelations from an anonymous Mercedes engineer in the paddock after the race reveals they are really worried for the rest of the season.
“For us, the speed on the straight flattens off at a certain point, because the MGU-K no longer delivers power.
“Ferrari’s power is always on. The MGU-K just does not turn off. It looks like they have advantages from the combustion engine and the electric power.”
Adding up the numbers, and Mercedes admissions; AMuS has calculated an increase over the output of Mercedes of around 40 hp, which is a huge leap. Last week, Mick Schumacher who was testing for the Ferrari team in the 2019 SF90 accidentally hinted that Ferrari was running over 1,000 bhp. (read more)
The strangest part of the story is that of the Ferrari customer teams such as Haas. The American’s lose around 6 tenths on the straights to the Ferrari’s, despite supposedly adhering to FIA mandated rules that power units must remain identical for customers. Yes, the Haas cars were running low downforce, but this difference is simply too big.
What is also Interesting, AMusS has calculated that Haas and Alfa Romeo can still keep up at the beginning of the straight, but they are massively down in the second half. TJ13 believes this points to a serious advantage in the electrical parts of the Ferrari power unit, but as they must run identical engines to their customers, perhaps it’s something in the fuel?
Red Bull boss Christian Horner has noticed a strange smell in the pit next door since Melbourne: “The fuel from Ferrari smells like grapefruit juice”, hinting that Ferrari are running a unique blend on fuel, different to other Ferrari teams.
— Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 31, 2019
Red Bull’s Adrian Newey joins in with the party line saying that “We thought the FIA had plugged all the engine loop holes.” referring to the oil burning qualifying modes now stamped out by the FIA. Read more on this here.
Newey is highlighting the fact that energy flow is monitored very closely and flexible ‘cheat’ fuel lines are prohibited. (Learn more on this trick here).
The most alarming aspect of the speed on the straights is the fact that Ferrari had this advantage in all the sessions in Bahrain, not just a qualify Q3 ‘party’ mode. The engines have not been able to swop the engines from Melbourne to Bahrain as the transit times between races don’t allow it, all of which points to Ferrari inherently having this power from the beginning. Melbourne being a twisty street circuit, plus the cooling issues, meant they weren’t able to unleash it.
It is now clear that Ferrari have had this power advantage from the start, but hasn’t shown it yet. In Barcelona, they didn’t want to, and in Melbourne, because they couldn’t.
During the winter tests in Barcelona the engines of Mercedes and Ferrari were still at the same level according to the analysts. Renault and Honda just behind. Ferrari obviously deliberately didn’t want to reveal their hand in Barcelona and patently they didn’t have to. The car was already fast enough to top the time sheets. They were fast AND sandbagging it seems.
In Australia, AMuS claim that Leclerc and Vettel were only allowed to turn up their engine modes during the race for the laps before and after the pit stop. The rest of the race they were limited to approximately 40 hp less than Mercedes. Turning the engine mode back up led to excessive fuel consumption.
Now it seems that in Bahrain Ferrari have been able to partially reveal just how powerful their 2019 engine is, a very big concern for the competition when the next races are China and Azerbaijan, two circuits with the longest straights on the calendar.
Teams are hoping that this Ferrari power advantage comes with a big cost in reliability. With only two races into the season, that remains to be seen.