One of the most intriguing facets of this season’s F1 has been the inability of the teams to set their cars up in optimum fashion at each new circuit the circus visits. The new 18 inch tyres mean the teams just don’t know how their car will perform at circuits where their tyre data for the 13 inch wheels was encyclopaedic. Further the new ‘ground effect’ car design and the associated aerodynamics is creating a steep learning curve for the teams.
Red Bull’s 2022 car setup has generally seen them run a lower rear wing than Ferrari which sees them quicker in top speed but allows Ferrari more grip in the corners. This has seen Ferrari very competitive in qualifying as they can warm their tyres up better for the one lap shootout. The trade off is at times higher degradation during the race.
In Austria it was Red Bull that suffered the higher tyre degradation which was a surprise to the team. The fix for this coming race weekend has been to switch out the new wing we saw on the RB18 in Styria.
Friday practice saw Ferrari topping the times in both sessions but given the reduced session times to just 60 minutes, the teams race simulations are nowhere near as long as they were when they had 90 minutes in FP2.
Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc managed 10 and 9 lap race simulations whilst Max Verstappen delivered just 4. Red Bull had time to do a longer stint but for some reason didn’t.
The pace and tyre degradation from the race simulations throws Ferrari’s strategy for this weekend into question.
Carlos Sainz who had a new floor for FP2 delivered long run pace at 1:38:532 while LecLerc was 0.110 seconds slower.
Max Verstappen’s race simulation laps were at an average of 1:37:725. Of course he did 5 laps less than Charles Leclerc though was almost a second a lap quicker. It’s highly unlikely that over the next 5 laps Verstappen would have slowed by around 2 seconds a lap which would drag his average time down to LeClerc’s.
The theory is that higher downforces protects the tyres in the corners because they don’t slip but there are some peculiar aspects about there Paul Ricard circuit which mean Red Bull may be way more competitive and have less tyre degradation than is expected.
Max Verstappen was noticeably using a different line through turns 1-4. Sky commentary at the time suggested it was because of a lack of front end grip. The Ferrari by comparison was staying wider, braking later and cutting in harder to the apex of these corners.
Anthony Davidson for Sky did a short piece of analysis after the session on the lines of the two drivers through the famous turn 11 carousel style corner. Again Verstappen was using a line with a more shallow entry creating almost a V shape through the 180 turn, whereas the Ferrari was using more grip to ride the turn in a more traditional even line.
Another difference between Austria and Paul Ricard is the Styrian circuit is ‘rear limited’. This means the grip disappears first at the rear of the car and the tyre wear is also less at the front.
The Castellet circuit is the opposite, front limited which means the tyre wear is predominantly at the front.
When Ferrari have suffered higher tyre degradation than Red Bull this season it has predominantly been on the front tyres. The F1-75 has amazing traction yet is kinder to it’s rear end rubber than that on the front.
Pit radio gave us a fascinating insight into Red Bull’s strategy for the weekend as Max had set his second quick time in FP2. The Dutchman asked his engineer whether they were going for another push lap but received this response.
“It’s just time at high fuel Max. Your first lap was competitive. Second push laps for both Ferraris have gone quicker by five or six tenths. But your first lap relative to theirs was competitive…. The race is won on Sunday and I think the high fuel run is important. But it’s up to you mate.”
Verstappen was half a second slower than Sainz at the time and concerned he needed another attempt to get closer. However, some of that defect was because the Ferrari were running a higher engine mode than Red Bull so the gap was artificially high.
Teams have spotters at the track with listening devices to analysis the sound of the competition’s engine, which is why Christian Horner confirmed “they were using a higher engine mode.”
Verstappen didn’t know this at the time and replied to his engineer, “Yeah but I don’t want to start P3 or P4.”
Clearly Red Bull’s philosophy has changed from the days of Sebastian Vettel’s dominant 4 year winning streak, where they set him up to take pole then disappear into the distance. They now believe sacrificing one lap pace for a better race setup is the way to go.
The reason for this is because prior to the new ‘ground effect’ cars being up front in clean air protecting the tyres was a premium. This is less important with the new car design as the restricted aerodynamics don’t hamper the car behind any where near as much.
This has been evident with teams less concerned about protecting track position during a racer and making more pit stops as the tyre offset means overtaking is much easier.
As always the new shorter practice sessions make it difficult to know exactly what we’ll see during qualifying and the race. But with track temperatures approach 60 degrees Celsius it’s highly probable the Ferrari gamble to set up for qualifying and use aggressive downforce through the corners may come back to haunt them on Sunday.