The classic script of the start of the 2023 Formula 1 season was also played out at the Miami International Autodrome in Florida, USA, with a Red Bull-dominated race resulting in their fourth one-two finish in five races. It was a Grand Prix in which Max Verstappen shone, managing to come back from the fifth row at the start with an unbeatable pace, not only in terms of lap time but also in terms of consistency.
Behind the two Milton Keynes cars, the usual three-way battle between Aston Martin, Mercedes, and Scuderia Ferrari played out, with the goal of being the second force of the Miami weekend. After a good weekend in Azerbaijan where they achieved their first podium of the 2023 Formula 1 championship, the Maranello team was looking for confirmation, not only to prove that their performance in Baku was not a fluke linked to the characteristics of the track. For the US race, the Red team presented several aerodynamic updates aimed at improving the drivers’ feeling, reducing the unpredictability of a car that is often difficult to read even for those behind the wheel.
These are the first technical updates that not only fall within a plan of development that will continue in the next appointments, but that are also part of the learning process of the car undertaken in the last few GPs, which has focused mainly on set-up variations. These interventions have had their first effects, partly changing the nature of the car, especially in the slow corners, one of the weak points of the SF-23 in the first two races.
Constantly changing order
However, it is logical that with such small gaps between the three teams behind Red Bull, the values on the field are unstable, also linked to the circumstances of the various stages of the calendar. This was a topic discussed after the Baku Grand Prix, where a greater presence of winding sections, long straights and low tire degradation had allowed for a good showing for the Italian side.
By also exploiting the difficulties in completing overtaking maneuvers, Charles Leclerc and Ferrari were able to act with greater freedom in the race strategy, perfectly managing the various phases that then guaranteed the nice third place finish. An encouraging result, but one that needed to be confirmed on a more complete and complex track, such as that in Miami, which features a mix of fast and slow sections along with numerous straights and continuous stop and go section.
Show your support for Scuderia Ferrari with official merchandise collection! Click here to enter the F1 online Store and shop securely! And also get your F1 tickets for every race with VIP hospitality and unparalleled insider access. Click here for the best offers to support Charles and Carlos from the track!
On a single lap, even in American territory, the SF-23 showed good indications, so much so that Charles Leclerc’s first attempt on track was about to be within two tenths of a second from Sergio Perez. At first glance, nothing earth-shattering, but in reality it was a comforting statistic, especially considering the many difficulties encountered by the Ferrari in the first sector, which is the fastest one. In the past races, it had become rather clear that fast corners were not the strong suit of the Italian car, which lacks absolute aerodynamic load and stability to compare with Red Bull and Aston Martin.
An issue that emerged especially in the sequence of corners four to eight, including the one where Charles Leclerc made a mistake both on Friday and Saturday. In the race, this aspect became even more relevant, becoming a crucial limit in the difficulties encountered by both drivers, which were essentially common despite slightly different car setups.
Problems in fast corners and tire management
Carlos Sainz’s first stint on medium tires seemed particularly encouraging, as he seemed able to constantly stay in Fernando Alonso’s tow. Thinking they had a good pace and encouraged by the first references of the white-banded compound, Ferrari had decided to anticipate the pit stop, calling their Spanish driver back to complete the undercut. A move that had the desired effect, but also highlighted one of the problems currently affecting Ferrari, namely the management of tire temperatures.
When he returned to the track after the stop, Carlos Sainz found himself in traffic, having to push not only to complete the undercut, but also to complete overtaking maneuvers on Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg. While it is true that the tires in Miami showed good degradation, in this case, the crucial issue is the management of temperatures in an extremely delicate phase of their life. It is no coincidence that just a few races ago, the same drivers had highlighted the difficulties shown by the SF-23 in the wake of other cars, with the consequent overheating of the tires.
An interesting element emerges by observing Fernando Alonso’s times during that phase, still competitive for all six laps completed after the pit stop of his compatriot, demonstrating that the two-time world champion still had something up his sleeve. “First of all, we wanted to follow our plan and not be hasty. We were accumulating a delta in terms of tire life and we must not forget that we did not know how long we could go on with the hard ones.” Moreover, we did not want to enter traffic, because in that case we risked getting into dirty air. We thought of staying out, we still had pace with those tires and it would pay off later in the race,” confirmed Mike Krack, the Team Principal of Aston Martin.
The second stint on the hard tires is the most indicative one to delve into Ferrari’s problems at the Miami International Autodrome in Florida, particularly returning to the topic of fast corners. After an aggressive first part of the run to complete the undercut, Carlos Sainz began to have to manage the tires, consequently increasing his lap times. A phase in which, even over the radio, the Ferrari driver had indicated to the pit that he did not have great confidence in the tires, also due to the poor flexibility of the SF-23 over the long distance.
“At the moment I cannot push. Especially in the race, as soon as you push for a lap, you do a good fast lap and then the next lap you are three tenths slower with tires that were very, very hard and that means we have no flexibility to push and, therefore, we just have to follow a certain pace to get to the end,” said the Ferrari driver after the Miami Grand Prix.
It is precisely in that phase of the Grand Prix that Fernando Alonso then took the lead, maintaining an unreachable pace for number 55. Observing the telemetry reported by Formula 1 expert Gianluca D’Alessandro for Motorsport Italy, it emerges that Carlos Sainz was losing time precisely in the fastest sections of the first sector, then unable to compensate in the slower section. Only once the tires stabilized in clean air, the pace of the Ferrari driver returned to times in line with those of the Aston Martin driver, who at that point had already made the decisive break and returned to a more suitable pace to reach the finish line.
Different setups but common problems
Listening to the team radio from the perspective of Charles Leclerc, perhaps the most repeated phrase from the boxes was “increase tire management in fast corners”. A topic that recurred for much of the race, starting from the first stint, where the Monegasque driver was stuck in the traffic behind Kevin Magnussen. Unable to start with the hardest tire due to the risk of sliding down the standings at the start, the idea of the Maranello team was to extend the first part of the race as much as possible, so as not to excessively sacrifice the next part.
In that phase, Charles Leclerc had to fight against understeer, especially due to the sensitivity of the front tires. It is no coincidence that the team repeatedly urged him to manage the tires more effectively in the sections that put more energy into the tires, such as the fast sequence from four to six and the long corner seven.
“With the mediums at the start of the race, I couldn’t get the car to turn. Plus, I had to be careful not to slide the front tires because the first stint had to be long and that affected my whole race,” explained the Ferrari driver. On the other hand, Kevin Magnussen had shown himself to be more aggressive on the tires, so much so that in the post-race, he explained that he may have overdone it, forced to anticipate the pit stop.
The indication to increase tire management in fast corners, like in the tenth lap (“We have to be careful with front tire saturation in turns 7 and 15”), had a specific purpose, which is also understandable by observing the telemetry at the start of the race. What emerges is that generally, in fact, Charles Leclerc faced the indicated straights with higher speeds than his teammate. These problems then reappeared in the second half of the race, where the same difficulties in terms of “elasticity” of the SF-23, already highlighted by Carlos Sainz on the harder compound, emerged again.
What seems clear is that the problems in Miami are not completely limited to simple tire degradation, also because the track temperatures were about 15 degrees lower than during Friday’s practice, which limited the loss of performance over long distances. In this case, it almost seems that the “native” characteristics of the SF-23 with some features of the track and the inconsistent thermal management of the tires were more influential.
Ferrari’s hope is that the Miami race will be an isolated case, especially considering that they were also beaten by Mercedes, but it is also true that it fits into the pattern of continuous alternation of values that has already been observed several times in this start of the season. The SF-23 continues to suffer more in race conditions, and Carlos Sainz’s words at the end of the race highlighted that the car is still in a phase of pure experimentation to build the foundation for the future.