The Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Stavelot proved to be a long and intense race in which Scuderia Ferrari demonstrated its ability to manage tire compounds. However, as highlighted by Charles Leclerc himself in the usual post-race interviews, there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. Perhaps more significant than initially thought. Unfortunate for Carlos Sainz, who found himself with a heavily damaged car after the contact with Oscar Piastri.
Belgium GP 2023/1st stint: Ferrari and Mercedes split strategies among their drivers.
At the start, most of the drivers opted for the Soft tires. It’s important to note that no one had a model to simulate the evolution of tire degradation for the three tire compounds, so everyone was somewhat in the dark. Therefore, the choice of the medium tire was quite popular, as it offers slightly lower performance but provides a safer approach to extend the first stint. Moreover, all teams had a set of Hard tires on standby, in case tire wear was low enough to attempt a one-stop strategy.
Specifically, the following table shows the initial choices of the drivers. Red Bull trusted the Soft tire, while Ferrari and Mercedes split strategies. In Red Bull, with significantly less tire degradation, they can afford to take a riskier approach. Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc went with the red tires, while Carlos Sainz and George Russell chose the yellow ones. The McLarens, on the other hand, went for the medium tire.
In the initial laps, the Red Bulls imposed their pace, and Max Verstappen quickly returned to his rightful positions. The difference in speed significantly facilitated their race. Moreover, the high speed delta with the DRS open allowed for effortless overtaking maneuvers.
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Carlos Sainz, after the contact with the McLaren, damaged the underfloor and side of the car on the right. In terms of aerodynamic balance, according to the Ferrari pit wall, the damage caused a 5% aerodynamic loss. This situation was quite severe and significantly complicated the handling, lowering the driver’s confidence.
Above, we can observe the pace of some drivers during the first stint. In this case, Sergio Perez, leading for several laps, maintained the same pace as Max Verstappen, who had to make his way back from fifth place to the front.
With the Soft tires, Ferrari confirmed itself as the second force, managing to gain 3 tenths per lap on Lewis Hamilton. In this first part of the race, the red car lost about 4/5 tenths per lap on average compared to the RB19. The data regarding Lando Norris is not assessable, as he completed only 5 laps with the softs car and faced several issues.
Belgium GP 2023/2nd stint: Mercedes very solid on the Medium tire.
Hamilton was the first of the top drivers to make a pit stop, switching to the yellow-banded Pirelli tires. Following him, Leclerc also pitted to cover Hamilton, and Perez did the same on the same lap. Both opted for the medium tires, indicating a two-stop strategy. Red Bull, rightly so, pitted with Perez first to prevent his teammate from gaining crucial seconds through the undercut. Afterward, Lambiase asked Max what to do, as they expected rain in about 10 laps.
However, Max Verstappen preferred to leave the decision to the team and returned to the pits on lap 14 to cover Charles Leclerc. Once back on track, he passed his teammate, taking the lead of the race. In essence, the Monegasque’s race was focused on challenging Lewis Hamilton, not on the driver ahead, in order to secure the podium.
In the second stint, let’s quantify the gaps and values seen on the track. On this occasion, Max had a clear track and gave Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari just under 6 tenths per lap. The Monegasque’s number 16 on the Medium tire was slightly slower than Hamilton’s Mercedes, which was 5 tenths faster. Thus, Ferrari was the third force in this period, followed by Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, as explained by F1 experts Alessandro Arcari and Niccoló Arnerich for FUnoanalisitecnica.
Belgium GP 2023/3rd stint: Ferrari foils Mercedes’ second undercut attempt.
Again, Lewis Hamilton was the first to make a second pit stop, having closed the gap to Charles Leclerc in the preceding laps. The British driver returned to mount the Soft tires and attempted a powerful undercut on Charles. It’s worth mentioning that this season has shown that pushing hard on new tires in the early laps is disadvantageous as it shortens the tire’s lifespan. The following lap, Charles Leclerc rightly reacted, just outside of Hamilton’s pit stop window. Upon exiting the pits, the Monegasque found himself ahead of the Mercedes man who had just overtaken Alonso.
Between the two Red Bulls, Perez pitted first, while Verstappen extended his stint by one lap, making it a “free-stop” and retaining the lead. Once again, Lambiase questioned what the young talent from Hasselt was doing, suggesting that he might have used the red tire too much during the out-lap.
Mercedes then decided to make a free-stop two laps before the end to secure an additional point for the fastest lap. Hamilton requested to switch back to the yellow tires, as his W14 performed exceptionally well with this compound. It is interesting to note that the drivers of the German team identified bouncing on the straights as the main limiting factor at Spa.
Besides reducing top speeds, this phenomenon significantly increased tire temperatures due to the vibrations created. Furthermore, this factor caused a certain instability during braking in the black arrows (Mercedes).
In Belgium, Ferrari showed a good performance. Considering the entire weekend, the SF-23 proved to be versatile in all track conditions, maximizing its performance. Although the Prancing Horse was the second force in Belgium, the data tells a different story. In fact, Hamilton had an average pace about 2 tenths faster per lap than Charles Leclerc. Nevertheless, Mercedes’ two undercut attempts on the red car did not work.
Source: Alessandro Arcari and Niccoló Arnerich for FUnoanalisitecnica.