Qualifying for the 2022 Formula One GP threw up shock after shock for the fans. During every session over Friday and Saturday, Mercedes were quickest except for the final part of qualifying where Verstappen pipped Russell to pole 0.3 seconds.
The real gap from Verstappen to the rest of the field wa masked by the fact this is the third shortest circuit on the F1 calendar.
Ferrari F1 quali ‘huge surprise’
The other big surprise of Saturday afternoon was how poor the Ferrari’s performed. LeClerc had new power units in Austin and should have been competitive but managed jut 7th place. His team mate Carlos Sainz fared little better in P5 and the two Ferrari cars were split by the Alfa Romeo of Valterri Bottas.
Bottas has been quick all weekend and finished nearly 0.75s ahead of his Chinese team mate in Q2.
Yet the comeback of Max Verstappen in the final run during Q3 was impressive. Lewis Hamilton explained why he thought the Red Bull was quick at around 7,000ft altitude above sea level.
Red Bull power unit ‘themes efficient’
Prior to the weekend’s on track action beginning, Lewis told reporters he felt the Red Bull – Honda powertrain would have an advantage in Mexico. At this altitude the air is 22% thinner and hence the power units run harder and hotter than at most other F1 tracks.
Hamilton believes the Honda designed turbo deploys almost 100% energy in Mexico whilst others manage around 70-75%.
Yet the mystery of Ferrari’s woeful performance was strange for the casual observer. Ferrari have taken 12 of the previous 19 pole position and the power unit of the F1-75 is accepted to be the quickest in Formula One this season.
So what happened during yesterday’s qualifying?
Ferrari knew they would struggle
When asked in the media pen as to why both Ferrari’s were slow, Carlos Sainz cryptically revealed.
“We know why we are slow and what compromises we have to make, but in the end it was more difficult than expected.”
The reporter unfortunately didn’t ask what Ferrari knew, but AMuS is suggesting Ferrari did indeed believe in advance of the weekend their power unit would not have its usual dominance.
AMuS is reporting “The engine becomes a problem [at altitude]. Fearing for the turbochargers, [Ferrari] engineers have to downgrade performance [in Mexico].”
Ferrari F1 turbo smaller than the rest
The Ferrari turbo chargers are smaller than other F1 power unit manufacturers and cope less well with the 22% thinner air. Yet given its relative strength elsewhere Ferrari can be excused for not designing its power unit to accommodate the vagaries of altitude.
Charles LeClerc reported “drivability issues” too, but these stem fro the fact that with less power, Ferrari have had to skin out their rear wing to compensate for loss of power down the straights.
This then compromised downforce through the slower corners inducing understeer making the F1-75 look extremely hard to handle.
Less power meant less downforce
Despite running a skinnier wing, the Ferrari cars were only 12th and 16th quickest fastest through the speed trap.
So the Mexican GP will unlikely see a rerun of LeClerc last time out in Austin, where the Ferrari driver charged through the field from starting P12 to P3.
For Mercedes and Hamilton this is great news given their current 52 point deficit to the Scuderia. A good haul of points for the silver arrows today could see them in contention for P2 in the constructors’ championship.
If that were to happen, the Italian fans will feel like their favourite team have thrown the season away.
"Today we were suffering out there"
Carlos Sainz says his Ferrari was trickier to drive than other weekends 🤔 pic.twitter.com/Vz14J67kTJ
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) October 29, 2022