Scuderia Ferrari did what they could, but it wasn’t enough. We’ve already discussed what happened in the limited available practice sessions. The tight schedule certainly compacted the field since the usual setup adjustments over the three sessions couldn’t be carried out. Among the “non-Red Bull” teams, the smooth new tarmac facilitated a reduction in minimum ride heights. However, the extremely dirty track caused a generalized loss of grip on all the cars.
The sand that had accumulated on the track over the laps gradually disappeared, resulting in significant positive track evolution that shouldn’t be underestimated. From a strategic perspective, it was essential to get the drivers out on track as late as possible so they could take advantage of the maximum track evolution. For this reason, we already saw the RB19 experiencing rear-end issues during the FP1, similar to what happened during the Singapore weekend.
The cars from Milton Keynes faced more challenges in the medium-speed sections rather than in the high-speed ones. During entry phases, the front end was even too strong, and this stability limited the rear end, which displayed instability and a tendency to “break free” when approaching the apex. In high-speed sections, Red Bull excelled, especially in very rapid changes of direction, where they made a difference, similar to what happened in Suzuka’s Turn 1.
Ferrari SF-23: The dirty track favors oversteer generation
The Prancing Horse reacted consistently to the track conditions. We know that the mechanical balance was adjusted by changing the stiffness of the anti-roll bars. Furthermore, during the FP1 session, the front ride height was reduced, and it seems that they lowered it further before qualifying. Overall, the SF-23 exhibited a good rear end, but Red Bull and McLaren showed superior and more balanced overall downforce.
The differences in terms of handling do not appear to be excessive, but even minor adjustments in high-speed sections contribute to losing a lot in terms of lap time. It’s worth noting a slight understeer that can be observed on the onboard cameras when drivers are required to make multiple consecutive steering inputs to reach the inside apex of a turn. As we know, the Ferrari front end is rather weak, but it’s a “chronic” characteristic that has caused several issues during exit from Turn 4, where Leclerc often went wide, losing precious time.
McLaren demonstrated a lot of vertical load combined with a stable aerodynamic platform, which generates a lot of grip during cornering. Although the front end is excellent, almost on par with Red Bull, McLaren struggled slightly in maintaining speed during direction changes. This element penalized the papaya-colored cars on the track, along with their less than optimal efficiency, a factor they’ve carried since the start of the season.
Qatar GP 2023/Qualifying Performance Analysis: The Importance of Tires that the Ferrari SF-23 Can’t Exploit
Tires played a significant role in the performance. The presence of many consecutive long-radius corners causes tire compounds (especially the fronts) to heat up quickly. If the temperature exceeds the upper working range limit, the tires overheat and lose some of their useful grip. Besides taking care of the outlap, it was crucial to control the tire temperatures for as long as possible, without introducing too much energy into the compounds in Turn 1.
This aspect also had an impact on Mercedes’ performance, a team adept at hitting the tire compound sweet spot. This factor led to better results on the leaderboard and can be attributed to the W14’s well-balanced base setup. Overall, their limitation appeared to be at the rear end, as it couldn’t generate enough grip for optimal performance.
Looking at the chart above, we summarize the forces at play. Max Verstappen dominated with McLaren following at a second and a half behind. The Brackley team emerged as the third force, with a gap to the leader of about four-tenths. Aston Martin and Ferrari were on equal footing, both with a gap of about six-tenths from the top.
Ferrari SF-23: Same Issues as Suzuka
Analyzing the data collected, we note that Max Verstappen was unable to achieve his best performance in the second part of the Qatari track. Mercedes and McLaren performed better in the middle of the circuit, with a mix of medium and high-speed corners.
With this in mind, Max built his lap time in the first and third sectors, while Mercedes suffered in the third sector, although they eventually gained positions due to penalties imposed by the race officials. Let’s take a look at the micro-sectors: Ferrari gained in a few traction points and generally in the entry phases because, as mentioned, the RB19 has a lighter rear end that frequently risks instability.
Notably, Sergio Perez couldn’t find his pace in this qualifying session, with the Austrian car showing more uncertainty during entry. At this point, it’s safe to say that we saw a very good but imperfect RB19, especially in terms of the rear end. Nevertheless, this aspect didn’t prevent the three-time world champion from securing the pole position.
The SF-23 had a slightly smaller margin for improvement compared to the practice session, and we saw the usual issues. Most cars experienced limitations at the rear end, but the lower stability of the red car at high speeds significantly reduced the limit compared to the competitors. Charles Leclerc managed the car better than his teammate but still suffered from rear-end instability.
There were also issues related to tire management. An incorrect “warm-up strategy,” as highlighted by Charles himself, was a highly limiting factor, causing the SF-23 to slide in the corners, making car handling more challenging.
Source: Alessandro Arcari and Niccoló Arnerich for FUnoanalisitecnica