After Carlos Sainz’s victory in the Singapore Grand Prix and the difficulties faced by the dominant Red Bull, especially in qualifying, the phrase everyone repeats like a mantra is: let’s wait for Suzuka to pass judgment.
Indeed, this season has seen too much inconsistency in Ferrari’s results, as well as a great alternation of forces behind Max Verstappen, leading to significant errors in predictions. But there had always been a constant opinion shared by all: Max Verstappen seemed unstoppable, with an impenetrable RB19 and a maturity that no longer made him commit errors. Yet, in Singapore, the unexpected happened. Red Bull’s performance on the track during practice and in qualifying was unstable, nervous in braking and acceleration, not very fast on straights, preventing the drivers from making it past Q2.
Coincidentally, it was in Singapore that a new directive, TD018, limiting the flexibility of wings, wing supports, and further restrictions on the rear section near the diffuser, made its debut. The impression is that the new directive did not have an absolute impact on the RB19’s performance, but it reduced the Red Bull’s ability to set up an optimal setup window much larger than other cars. In all previous events, Max Verstappen’s car was immediately at its peak performance on Fridays, not forcing the team into tight compromises between the setup optimized for qualifying (hot lap) and that for the race (tire management). It was as if the flexible parts could provide optimal behavior in varying conditions. There remains doubt about whether Red Bull’s solution to attach the upper arm of the rear suspension to the highly flexible rear wing pillar was genuinely capable of dynamically altering the geometry, simulating active suspensions.
Doubts that the upcoming event and the following ones might clarify, and we could start getting answers by analyzing the first images from the circuit, thanks to the punctual photos that Spanish reporter Albert Fabrega publishes on his social profiles.
In Singapore, for the first time, Max Verstappen requested significant changes to the rear wing several times during various sessions, eventually opting for a lower-downforce solution to reach the top speeds demonstrated by Mercedes and Ferrari during simulations. However, this choice penalized him in qualifying in favor of the race. These were compromises that the Milton Keynes team was not accustomed to.
Just like in Singapore, from the comparison of the rear wings, we can see that the RB19 is no longer the most loaded car in the group, as we were used to observing throughout the first part of the season. Instead, it seems that Ferrari can now try a setup with more rear downforce, relying on the powerful engine and newfound aerodynamic efficiency (and aerodynamic balance) to tackle the mixed and fast sections of the Japanese circuit. An aggressive choice that prioritizes tire management in the race while seeking a compromise with outright lap speed, which Maranello apparently believes they can handle.
Mercedes has also installed a slightly more pronounced lower-profile rear wing than Red Bull, while Williams has opted for a much lower-downforce solution.
Red Bull will attempt to use the floor tested in the Singapore practice sessions and unused in the race. It should be the one designed to counteract the reduced flexibility in the diffuser and the rear step area.
Aston Martin, which more than any other team has suffered the restrictions imposed by regulations on wing flexibility even before the introduction of the new directive, arrives at Suzuka with a medium-downforce configuration. After the pit stop issue with Alonso in the previous GP, the technicians intervened in the rear lifter attachment area, changing its inclination and shape.