Scuderia Ferrari leaves Bahrain “with broken bones” following the trip to the Middle East, in the aftermath of what happened in the first round of the 2023 Formula 1 campaign, with Red Bull completely dominating in the Bahrain desert. The world of Formula 1 appears stunned by the superiority shown by the RB19, in a sport that tried everything possible to lead to closer racing and provide more excitement for fans in the fight for race wins.
The three days of testing at the Sakhir circuit had highlighted the superiority of the Austrian single-seater. For its rival what remained was only to understand what the gap and extent of this prominence was.
And the Bahrain Grand Prix proved to be a hard blow for the men in Maranello. In unsuspecting times, the managing director Benedetto Vigna had defined the SF-23 as a “single-seater without precedent in terms of speed.” To tell the truth, the red is certainly the fastest car in the speed traps, but it’s a pity that the circuits also have corners. A somewhat risky statement made by Benedetto Vigna a few weeks ago and unfortunately one that was immediately denied in practice by the outcome of the first round of the 2023 F1 season.
Many have resorted to superstitions and mysticism, recalling the Ferrari one-two last year in Bahrain and the simultaneous technical failure of Max Verstappen. However, Formula 1 is full of historical courses and recurrences that link current dynamics to those of the past.
The F1-75, especially in the first part of last season, was frequently compared to the SF-70H in terms of high downforce, excellent tire management and lack of aerodynamic efficiency. The characteristics of the SF-23 are instead more similar to the SF-90, a single-seater equipped with excellent aerodynamic efficiency but not very kind to the tyres.
On its debut in Australia in 2019, the Prancing Horse was soundly beaten by the silver arrows, with a generation of cars at the pinnacle of technical dominance. As often happens during hard times, media trials began regarding the competitiveness of the SF-90 on a par with what is currently happening with the SF-23 challenger, although in the following stage in Bahrain the reds monopolized the front row in qualifying and Charles Leclerc was heading to a race win until the inevitable problem of reliability that sent him to third place.
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Also in 2019, following the disappointing weekend at Paul Ricard, the then team principal Mattia Binotto analyzed the performance through a comment that can astonishingly be applied to the current situation: “We are looking for more aerodynamic load at the expense of speed. Even if the car will not be very efficient, it should guarantee a higher load which will be crucial for making the tires work. This will be the direction to follow.”
Yet the SF-90, in addition to the Belgium-Italy-Singapore hat-trick, could have won also in Canada and precisely in Bahrain. The historical premise, net of the completely different technological context, is a warning to those who are hypothesizing/prophesying doom and gloom for the Maranello team.
Even the Mercedes W06, one of the most successful cars in history, put to the track a very bad performance in the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix while Sebastian Vettel dominated the race with the less competitive SF15-T. This is to understand how the technical rate of a Formula 1 car cannot be judged by a single event. The feeling is that the Bahrain Grand Prix was insufficient for Ferrari beyond the real potential of the SF-23 single-seater, as explained by F1 expert Roberto Cecere for funoanalisitecnica.com.
From the first day of testing, the Italian engineers understood that the Achilles heel of the SF-23 was the management of tire degradation, the result of an endemic lack of aerodynamic load at the rear. A problem that could not be solved in three days of track testing. Charles Leclerc’s race pace in the first stint reveals this. In fact, despite a new set of Soft tyres, the Monegasque’s times were in various circumstances higher than those set 12 months ago.
The SF-23 is not a wrong single-seater but still too immature because, unlike the overall affinity, it still remains an invasive evolution of the F1-75. This does not absolve the team of responsibility for an unsatisfactory result, mind you.
However, the fact that Ferrari arrived in Bahrain unprepared does not imply that the SF-23 car does not possess a lot more potential that the technicians have failed to extract for now. A poorly designed single-seater shows its shortcomings in any condition, while the SF-23, in qualifying, despite the various problems and Charles Leclerc’s failed last attempt in Q3, showed that it can challenge Red Bull on the flying lap.
Ferrari SF-23: the 2023 world championship battle is not over
Putting aside the pessimism and analyzing the prospects for the 2023 Formula 1 season with calm and lucidity, there are objective reasons to believe in the fact that Ferrari can recover the gap to Red Bull. In the first place there will be circuits more akin to the characteristics of the SF-23. The next round in Jeddah, for example, should enhance the speed qualities of the Ferrari car on a par with what the “limping” Red Bull at the beginning of 2022 was able to do.
Compared to the reigning world champion team, Ferrari will be able to have more time in the wind tunnel added to a more intense use of CFD compared to their Milton Keynes colleagues.
Depending on the penalty received following the settlement with the FIA, it is likely that Red Bull has invested a substantial part of its budget in the basic specification of the RB19, aware that it has fewer resources to develop the single-seater during the year, a factor which could have a positive effect in favor of Ferrari.