Scuderia Ferrari can look back at the first five races of the 2022 Formula 1 season as a success: three pole positions, two wins. Since the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Italian side has been ahead in both the Driver Standings and the Constructor Standings. After the Miami GP, Charles Leclerc now has 104 points. His first pursuer, Max Verstappen, is 19 points behind, while in the team world championship, Ferrari still holds a six-point lead, 157 to 151.
Until now, the Ferrari F1-75 car with the specific sidepods has worked well on all circuits and no matter what the weather was like. It doesn’t matter what tires they are driving, or if it a lap in qualifying or in the race. After the Miami GP, team boss Mattia Binotto recalled his words before the start of the 2022 F1 season. “I’ve always said we have to wait five races before we can make any assessments.” The Maranello team boss can do that now: Ferrari is competitive.
Red Bull has the momentum
But the trend of the last two races speaks against the Maranello racing team and is in favour of Red Bull. “Maybe they were a few tenths faster than us,” admits Mattia Binotto. Various modifications on the last day of testing in Bahrain and in the first races brought Red Bull forward. While nothing new came on the RB18 in Miami, the events of Imola repeated themselves: Max Verstappen passed Charles Leclerc on track while using the medium tires. This time in the main race and not in the sprint.
The Monegasque was also a bit surprised by the outcome of the start: “In practice it was a disaster on the inside lane of the first corner. There was hardly any grip there. So I didn’t expect Max to find so much grip there. I wanted to stay on the clean racing line and optimize my braking point. It worked. I still couldn’t stay in front.” – he explained.
Ferrari only better in sector one
The fact that the Red Bull is several km/h faster in a straight line was nothing new. The team designed the RB18 during the development phase according to this idea. For the second time, the Red Bull cars took better care of the tires, although Ferrari chose a setup for more downforce. In theory, that should be better for the tires because the car slips less in the corners due to more downforce. Ferrari only benefited from the larger rear wing in the first section of the Miami track with the fast corners. In the corners from the second sector of the track, Red Bull was suddenly faster, despite the fact that slow corners have been until now one of the strength of Ferrari’s F1-75 car.
“We won against Red Bull in corners 5, 6 and 7,” explains Mattia Binotto. “Not like on Saturday in the slow section. Red Bull was as fast as we were. We have to analyze that. Surely it has something to do with the upgrades they’ve brought in the last few weeks.” It could also be that the tires, especially the medium ones, overheated a bit on the Ferrari in the slow sections. Charles Leclerc reported at the end of the first stint on the yellow Pirellis: “The car is so difficult to drive.”
Ferrari has to step up
The Ferrari drivers felt more comfortable on the hard tyres. After the safety car, Charles Leclerc ignited the C2 mixture faster and was able to put pressure on Max Verstappen in the first few laps. The faster warm-up process suggests that the engineers adjusted their car a bit more for qualifying. Ferrari absolutely had to be in the front with its larger rear wing. Overtaking was not an easy task in Miami because of the slippery surface off the ideal line. But Ferrari lacked the top speed and Max Verstappen was therefore able to defend himself successfully, despite the fact that Charles Leclerc used DRS behind him.
Let’s put it this way: The Red Bull overtook the Ferrari under its own power, it couldn’t be done the other way around. Which is also a statement about the current balance of power in Formula 1. Max Verstappen managed to break the DRS and pull away again easily. Which suggests that Red Bull also had a slight advantage on the hard tires. Sergio Perez would very likely have snatched third place from Carlos Sainz if the second Red Bull hadn’t had its wings clipped on the straights due to a sensor problem.
Ferrari knows that they have to improve technically to turn the tide back in their favor. “It’s up to us to step on the gas,” says Mattia Binotto. “In Barcelona we will have an upgrade. It is very important that it works.” Not just to get back in front of Red Bull. But also for budget reasons. Under the budget cap, every failure is doubly expensive.
At Red Bull, every new development has hit the ground running. Ferrari has yet to prove that. And hope that an increase in downforce does not lead to more bouncing, which would be detrimental to the lap time. “We know that Red Bull is developing strongly, but I have faith in my team. With our new car we have shown how well we develop ourselves and that we can catch up. I hope the upgrade will help us again to go to the top,” says Charles Leclerc.
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Ferrari had deliberately held back in the first five races, because they first wanted to fully understand their car in order to squeeze as much performance as possible from the initial specification, while also working to reduce bouncing. And of course, because the Maranello team has to operate under the budget cap, which leads to several difficulties.
Larger update packages are being evaluated in Maranello and will only be run only after Ferrari is sure they will offer significant improvement. Logic says that Red Bull used up more of their development budget early in the season. “They can’t continue like this. At some point they will have to stop development.” – Mattia Binotto said.
For now both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are using their second power unit and according to German automobile magazine ‘Auto Motor und Sport’, Scuderia Ferrari were allowed to modify the power unit (PU2) because of a problem with reliability. Starting with the Spanish Grand Prix, the first power unit will only be used during the Friday practice sessions. At the same time, AMuS confirms that Ferrari will introduce the new hybrid system with PU3.
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