For the first time in months, Formula 1 seems ready to face an entire dry weekend without any elements that could disrupt the proceedings or affect the competitive order. However, there were some minor mishaps, especially in the second free practice session, which was interrupted first due to a fuel system issue on Lance Stroll’s car and then due to Sergio Perez’s accident in the final minutes of the day, halting long-distance simulations.
At Monza, Fridays are primarily focused on aerodynamic choices, with several teams adopting a similar approach. Starting with FP1, they use high-downforce configurations to assess the track grip and establish initial benchmarks. Later in the day, they switch to lower-downforce setups, in line with the demands of the unique Brianza circuit. This decision is critical, not only based on which session they prioritize between Saturday and Sunday but also considering the characteristics of each individual car.
On Friday, various teams explored different solutions, partly recycling ideas from previous years and partly taking a completely different approach than seen in other races this season. For example, Ferrari arrived with an exceptionally low-downforce setup that allowed them to excel on the straights, reaching significantly higher speeds than their direct competitors, including Red Bull and McLaren, especially on the Ascari straight. During FP1, the Scuderia ran with a configuration featuring two beam wings, while in the late afternoon, they switched to a single profile, further improving top speeds. The convincing aspect is that this superiority wasn’t solely due to slipstream effects. Although a slight beneficial effect was observed during Carlos Sainz’s final attempt on the main straight, it was predominantly due to the car’s performance, as this trend repeated in various attempts.
Red Bull and McLaren approached the day differently. In terms of the Milton Keynes team, Max Verstappen tested the highest downforce wing available during FP1, while Sergio Perez opted for a lower-downforce setup, providing a direct comparison. What’s interesting is that Red Bull, in reality, arrived with three different wing configurations because, during FP2, Verstappen ran with an even lower-downforce flap, as seen from the DRS flap angle, registering slightly higher top speeds than the Mexican driver.
The two-time world champion showed good sector times in the first and third sectors but faced traffic in the middle sector, losing some tenths that could have been crucial for improving positions on the leaderboard. However, for the British team, Friday seemed to serve as a test day, and it’s reasonable to assume that after seeing Ferrari’s references, the team felt vulnerable if they had confirmed the highest downforce option among those available. The feeling, as confirmed by Verstappen himself, is that the team is still fine-tuning the setup, trying to understand the most suitable configuration to balance the RB19’s performance between slow and fast corners.
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McLaren made a different choice. Between the first free practice session at Monza and FP2, they alternated between the two available wings for their two drivers. In the late afternoon, Oscar Piastri ran with the highest downforce option, similar to what was used in Spa but with a DRS flap cut, resulting in extremely convincing cornering speeds, albeit at the cost of straight-line speed. On the contrary, in the second session, Lando Norris tested the lower-downforce wing, but even so, the British driver impressed in the corners, especially in the second sector when compared to both Ferrari and Red Bull.
Looking at the telemetry references, it’s interesting to note that Carlos Sainz is the most aggressive driver in terms of corner entry, a characteristic of his driving style, with late braking and an aggressive approach in downshifting. In fact, his telemetry lines are the most pronounced. In contrast, Norris allows the car to drift slightly in the early part of the chicane but has to completely lift off the throttle during direction changes, indicating a completely different driving interpretation from his rivals.
The limits of a low-downforce SF-23 focused on achieving high top speeds emerge mainly in the second sector’s corners, such as the “Variante della Roggia,” a change of direction where overall downforce and front-end precision usually shine. At both Lesmo corners, it’s clear that Norris is the reference point, not only due to his chosen configuration but also because it’s a type of corner that the MCL60 has consistently handled well throughout the season. In this case, it’s interesting to highlight how both Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen get back on the throttle earlier, with the Ferrari immediately leveraging its strengths on the straights, even reaching a +10 km/h advantage over McLaren before the 8-9-10 sequence.
The Ascari chicane represents one of the more complex points of the circuit, especially on entry, where drivers often adopt different approaches. Some, even at the expense of losing grip, try to use the curbs as much as possible on entry to position the car best for the direction change, like Charles Leclerc. Others, like Max Verstappen, didn’t explore the limit during practice, staying wider. What is clear, however, is that McLaren dominated the Ascari on Friday, asserting its superiority. On the contrary, as expected, Ferrari struggled with the quick direction change, even requiring a noticeable lift-off.
Throughout the day, the SF-23 was seen bottoming out on exit of Turn 10, showing significant bottoming. In qualifying, they will approach the limit more closely, so it will be interesting to see how much margin the two Maranello drivers have to exploit and how much it truly counts for the stopwatch.
However, the real point where the RB19 can make the difference is the Parabolica, the section where the Milton Keynes car appears to express its qualities to the fullest. Verstappen, in fact, managed to create a gap of about 10 km/h to Norris and 18 to Carlos Sainz in this section. Observing the telemetry references, it’s interesting to note that Red Bull drivers can brake later while carrying a lot of speed on entry. They can still manage understeer at the center of the corner, something that misled Perez during the race simulation with more fuel on board.