At the Hungaroring circuit in Budapest, Scuderia Ferrari unfortunately replicated the performance seen in the previous round of the 2023 Formula 1 championship, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. While the experimental ATA (Alternative Tyre Allocation) qualifying format partially shuffled the cards, over the course of 300 kilometers, the balance of power became evident. The Red Bull RB19, in the hands of Max Verstappen, belongs to a different league. When the Dutch driver clocked 1:20.504 on the Hungarian circuit after the final pit stop, it became clear that the two-time world champion is playing a cat-and-mouse game.
A car that, for strategic reasons, rarely expresses its true potential to avoid attracting the attention of the steamroller bosses trying everything to resuscitate a championship whose outcome was almost pre-written before it began. Behind the might of Milton Keynes, a battle is unfolding for the less desirable position of the second force.
Aston Martin is now in free fall, having experienced a phenomenal start to the 2023 Formula 1 season with engineers from Red Bull transferring the winning formula from RB18 to AMR23. Both Mercedes and McLaren have shifted towards a complete review of their early-season specifications, showing significant improvements in performance, especially for the Woking-based team.
In the mix, the Scuderia Ferrari has also intervened extensively on the SF-23, but has failed to climb the midfield hierarchy. The decline of the red car has been evident on a track that theoretically should not have invalidated the 675 project. The Maranello cars narrowly avoided being lapped, but what made Sunday bitter for the Prancing Horse were the over thirty seconds they conceded to Lando Norris’ McLaren and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Charles Leclerc’s slow pit stop and the penalty incurred by the Monegasque for speeding in the pit lane do not change the substance, despite Fred Vasseur’s immediate claim that the pace of the Ferraris was quite close to that of the seven-time world champion’s Mercedes. Denying the evident technological gap is the worst way to try to escape from the quicksand.
The Hungarian Grand Prix is likely the point of no return for Scuderia Ferrari’s 2023 racing campaign. While the respectable performances in Canada and Austria left some hope of outpacing the competition, the prevailing sentiment at the end of the race on the Hungarian toboggan is that of resignation. The SF-23 is not a technically viable project, not even in its evolved version.
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While Mercedes and the resurgent McLaren have identified areas for improvement in their technical projects, the men from Maranello are hostage to the total unpredictability of their car. The current leitmotif is the sensitivity to the wind, as if gusts of air only existed for the Italian cars. It is difficult to believe that such mediocrity is solely due to weather conditions.
The immediate reactions of the drivers and team principal are a mix of obviousness to which Ferrari fans are sadly accustomed. The need to learn from their mistakes, the determination not to give up, as reiterated by a teary-eyed Charles Leclerc, in fact, masks a disillusionment that goes far beyond the worst predictions of the season’s start. The Monegasque driver emphasized the necessity of working on the car’s sensitivity to the wind and staying 100% focused on the car’s progress, trying to hide the sense of disenchantment.
Carlos Sainz, who finished the Hungarain Grand Prix about seven virtual tenths behind his teammate, expressed the need to understand the shortcomings that plague the SF-23 despite the significant upgrades introduced since the Spanish Grand Prix. The Spanish driver does not hide his disappointment with the unsatisfactory result achieved on a favorable track, at least on paper.
The team principal from France pointed out the numerous mistakes made throughout the entire Budapest weekend, from the lack of responsiveness to the aforementioned format to the issue that occurred during Charles’ pit stop. Nevertheless, the Frenchman deemed the pace of the red cars satisfactory, even though not rewarding from an overall result perspective. Such an observation, from the viewpoint of an outside observer, represents a paradox.
If cars number 16 and 55 had the pace to compete with the competition, they would have arrived ahead or at least close to their rivals. While Fred Vasseur cannot be blamed for the mediocrity of the 675 project, an unfortunate legacy of the previous mandate under Mattia Binotto, the management of developments and operations on the track continues to resemble that of the recent past too much, as explained by F1 expert Roberto Cecere for FUnoanalisitecnica.
In any case, the aspirations placed in the second half of the 2023 Formula One season seem melancholically limited by an insurmountable technological gap, not only towards the uncatchable Red Bull. If the second is the first among the defeated, the Prancing Horse seems to be heading towards a season-ending technical knockout.