Scuderia Ferrari always seems to be missing something, often at the most crucial moments. It’s a recurring story where the Prancing Horse squanders a potentially better result for various reasons. On Saturday, for example, it happened again, this time in the qualifying session for the British Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit. Both McLaren cars beat the SF-23s in a Q3 that could have secured the second row for the Italian side.
However, we’re talking about a qualifying session that was very complex from a strategic standpoint, as the track underwent significant changes between Q1 and Q3, with intermittent rain showers and patches of sunshine that further heated up the track.
Looking at the best times compared to the ideal times of each driver, it’s easy to see that Max Verstappen was the only one who could have improved on his final attempt. The Dutchman could have further lowered his time by 0.033s. That being said, in these changing conditions, the other drivers all achieved their ideal times, and therefore, the values expressed in Saturday’s classification are true, barring any driving errors.
Ferrari SF-23 still good in the high-speed sections, but Red Bull makes the setup work
Ferrari has definitely found a good balance, as from the onboard footage, the SF-23 appeared very composed when tackling the Becketts complex, with only the rear end feeling slightly light in handling corner 15, which, as we will see later, partially determined the outcome of today’s qualifying. The red car has not changed much in terms of handling from yesterday to today.
The Ferrari drivers built their lap as they did on Friday, continuing to lose a lot of time in corner 4, for example. The step forward was made by Red Bull and McLaren, with the latter able to unlock a lot of performance. However, Ferrari can hold its head high after this qualifying for at least one reason.
We have seen on multiple occasions that the high-speed corners were not the strong point of the 675 project. At Silverstone, the SF-23 managed to work with a setup featuring less downforce to match Red Bull’s speeds but, at the same time, it pushed hard in sections where more downforce is needed. And so it was, as Verstappen was very solid in T2, but the red car was even able to gain an advantage over the RB19 in many parts of this section.
Speaking specifically about Red Bull, we can say that the Austrian team still had some untapped potential compared to their direct competitors. On Saturday, in fact, Max Verstappen performed better in the second sector, where in practice he struggled to match Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari. Overall, in the Becketts complex, Carlos Sainz was able to keep up with the RB19, even gaining a certain advantage in terms of minimum speed.
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But the engineers at Milton Keynes investigated the setup to understand what was preventing it from being effective on the track. It should be noted that they had adopted a high-medium downforce package, with slightly higher average downforce compared to their rivals. This was supposed to help improve the handling, especially in the faster corners, such as in the second sector.
Mercedes struggled in Q3, while McLaren soared. The Mercedes team focused on testing some theories regarding the issues they faced in practice. Additionally, Mick Schumacher tested at the Brackley simulator, exploring possible directions for the setup. During free practice, on a single flying lap, the W14 cars couldn’t make the Soft tire work well, although their performance with the other two compounds was decent. It’s worth mentioning that the milder temperatures from Q2 onwards favored the German team, as they had struggled on a colder track yesterday. Today, it was easier for them to activate the tires and manage the lap, although their potential wasn’t realized in the final Q3 attempt.
McLaren took a huge step forward. The track conditions worked in their favor as well. On Friday, they couldn’t bring the car into the right operating window. As we can see in the following micro-sector comparison, in the Becketts section, the RB19 pulled away, just as we had hypothesized on Friday and as explained by F1 experts Alessandro Arcari and Niccoló Arnerich for FUnoanalisitecnica.
Ferrari also managed to have a better entry into this particular part of the track before the famous sequence of corners. However, McLaren gained an advantage over the Milton Keynes car in corner 13, leading to the straight that leads to the third sector. Max was unreachable even in corner 15, where the other drivers struggled with the rear end to varying degrees.
Ferrari didn’t have perfect traction on the final corner, where both Maranello drivers lost out to McLaren for the front row. The Maranello-based car generally has good traction, but above 125km/h, the Red Bull has an advantage on exit, as we can observe in the graph below that compares longitudinal acceleration and speed.
It’s not a coincidence that the RB19 produces better acceleration than the SF-23 at these speeds, as the Austrian car has more downforce where mechanical grip becomes less important and the centrality of aerodynamic load increases. Additionally, we see the Ferrari/McLaren comparison, where the latter loses in terms of longitudinal acceleration at every point on the track.
Overall, however, the MCL60 has managed to match the SF-23 in terms of pure performance. As mentioned, the battle between the two was lost by Ferrari in sector 3, where Charles Leclerc pushed beyond the limit, partly due to suboptimal tire temperatures.