The historic Ferrari team clinched a fantastic pole position. This achievement can be attributed to a setup that worked well and the sheer talent of Charles Leclerc, who put on an outstanding performance in Q3. During FP1 on hard tires, the two SF-23s experienced various issues, including excessive bouncing, a lack of rotation, understeer, and difficulties reaching the apex in different corners. However, with the soft tires, grip levels increased significantly, “correcting” these shortcomings. Nevertheless, it was challenging to anticipate such a high level of competitiveness in qualifying.
The engineers at Scuderia Ferrari sought to make a significant departure from the setup used last year, notably with a medium-to-high downforce rear wing. The reasoning behind this choice was well-known: difficulties in making the high-downforce rear setup work, which had an adverse effect on the front end, as seen in races like the one in the Netherlands. This was a bold gamble, especially given the only free practice session to validate the setups, which they effectively won.
Above, there is a comparison of the different levels of downforce adopted by the teams. It’s known that Red Bull has high aerodynamic efficiency, which is why the data indicates a more loaded car. For this reason, Ferrari has “gifted” up to 0.8 percentage points of downforce, aiming to cover performance in all sectors as effectively as possible. During FP1, limiting the bouncing was not easy. Moreover, the downforce compromise didn’t appear to yield good results in Sectors 1 and 2. With reduced rear-end incidence, the car was supposed to achieve optimal peak speeds on the long straight that characterizes the second sector, but this was not the case.
Additionally, in the final sector, the red cars lost ground, unable to take full advantage of their excellent traction, an area where they continue to excel. However, during the last practice run, Charles Leclerc managed to find time with the red-banded Pirelli tires, partly thanks to some adjustments in ride heights. This factor undoubtedly unlocked a significant part of the performance ahead of qualifying. The SF-23 was transformed and highly agile in the direction changes in the first sector, exactly where it was expected to struggle the most.
In the performance analysis of the qualification, we can see that Ferrari has found a mechanical compromise that has often eluded them on other tracks this season. To provide an explanation, it’s likely that the success of this setup can be attributed in part to the fact that Austin demands a less rigid rear setup in Sector 3. For this reason, other cars typically stronger in high-speed sections need to adopt rear-end compromise setups to be effective in the final section of the track.
The force graph during qualifying highlights an intriguing aspect. Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari was not the best in any of the three sectors, but the overall balance favored the red car. Verstappen’s times apply to the first Q3 attempt since the second one was canceled. Overall, the RB19 was faster by 0.07 seconds, but the Dutchman did not put together a completely clean lap when it counted.
The Milton Keynes team opted for a high-downforce setup, consistent with their approach in the 2022 season. Their higher aerodynamic efficiency allows for more rear incidence, which also benefits them in Sector 3, where they struggle with traction compared to the red car. In fact, the RB19 was able to match Ferrari’s performance in the final part of the track, keeping it close until the second-to-last corner. Given all the bumps on the track, we expected a greater performance delta between Red Bull and the competition. This wasn’t the case, and perhaps the updated TD039 has something to do with this.
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Looking at the sector times, Charles began building his lap in Sector 1, where he managed to stay competitive with the top-performing car. In Sector 2, he only lost half a tenth, and in the final section, he dropped only 0.01 seconds. In the first two sectors, the two cars are quite evenly matched. In the middle sector, Lewis Hamilton impressed, managing to outpace Max. Charles Leclerc was only fifth in this sector, which is somewhat concerning for today’s F1 Sprint as well as the classic race on Sunday.
The Brackley team also followed the setup path used in 2022, opting for the high-downforce specification with double-peak pressure distribution. Lewis understood very well how to use the tires and make them work throughout the lap, especially preserving the rear to keep it active in Sector 3. The seven-time world champion has a lot of experience, and when it comes to finely managing tire wear, he often does it nearly perfectly compared to his teammate.
Source: Alessandro Arcari and Niccoló Arnerich for FUnoanalisitecnica