The SF-23 took to the track with the last floor specification (first tested in Saudi Arabia) for both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in the qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix, which confirmed that it could guarantee a greater percentage of downforce without losing in terms of drag at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne.
The Maranello engineers, after the first two very painful races, expected to see progress in the Australian weekend but not so clear. There was indeed a step in the right direction (while waiting for a series of updates for the next races). Unsurprisingly, the SF-23 was able to show a better pace here, and Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz could have turned the potential into a very positive outcome in qualifying. Unfortunately that was not the case.
In particular, Carlos Sainz lost three tenths of a second in turn 1 due to bad preparation by the Maranello team in the crucial phase of Q3. Even Charles Leclerc, who was forced too anxiously into setting the fast lap after just a single out lap, lost 1 tenth and a half at that point. The data shows that Ferrari in that straight had a big deficit of 17 km/h as compared to Red Bull, entering at 172 km/h, which was even 5 slower than the Haas of the excellent Nico Hulkenberg.
Nonetheless, it was seen that the SF-23 car in certain corners was more consistent with the simulations and at least closer to its potential. It basically kept the bouncing under control, while the speed characteristics of the revamped Albert Park circuit mitigate the current limitations. The SF-23 does not like the medium corners and the high temperatures which expose it to the problem of thermal degradation seen from Bahrain, an effect that induces overeating of the tires, as explained by Italian F1 expert Giuliano Duchessa for formu1a.uno.
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In any case, it suffers in the medium speed corners around 200 kmh where it loses an average of 10 kmh from Red Bull. The Maranello technicians think they have made some visible steps forward in terms of balance but it will be tomorrow’s race that will have to prove it, after a very poor qualifying.
The strategies suggested by Pirelli for the race
The one-stop race strategy for the Australian Grand Prix is on paper the fastest. From the simulations based on the data collected from practice, the teams could opt for a start on the Mediums and a change between lap 17 and 23 with the Hards. Slightly slower is the option with a race start on the Softs and a stop between lap 15 and 21 to finish the race again on the Hards. Although slower than the one-stop race, a two-stop race is also possible, using all the compounds available in Melbourne: Softs at the start and then the Hards between laps 10 and 15 and finally Mediums between laps 38 and 45 and arrive at the checkered flag. Unlike last year, even the softest choice of the range (C4, instead of the C5 introduced in 2022) is also part of the possible race strategies.