Forget Miami. Scuderia Ferrari needs to turn the page quickly and erase the memory of a weekend that can leave harmful consequences if not adequately dissected. The overall picture from Florida is ruthless: Charles Leclerc’s SF-23 with the first important modifications (a new floor that revolutionizes flows in the Venturi tunnels, pending the arrival of new side pods) was unable to keep up with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
The Monegasque driver with the evolutionary package had to stay behind the car made by Simone Resta, who only had a small update to the floor’s curbs. Ferrari against “Ferrarina” with equal power units. The comparison was embarrassing for the Scuderia, convinced that it was laying the foundations for the relaunch that should start at Imola and conclude in Barcelona.
If we stop at the image of the first stint of the race, the considerations to be drawn are desolating: all the updates should be thrown away, and instead of pursuing the development of the SF-23, it is better to take a blank sheet to start drawing the first lines of the 2024 Formula One car. Fortunately, the reality was not so apocalyptic because Ferrari was caught off guard by new asphalt, and the technicians from Maranello didn’t understand anything, absolutely nothing.
The preparation work on a race simulator takes into account the asphalt data that the FIA sends to the teams according to a well-defined script. However, the American organizers changed the game, redoing the track outside the regulatory terms, and those who, like Ferrari, brought new solutions lost the development thread.
Red Bull, Aston Martin, and Mercedes did not introduce any modifications (there was only a better cooling of the Mercedes power unit of Aston Martin), while Ferrari bet on the anomalous American track to start discovering the long-awaited updates.
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All in all, it was a mistake, but it’s easy to say it in hindsight: the engineers led by Enrico Cardile did not want to introduce too many modifications at Imola for fear of not being able to evaluate what worked from what, eventually, didn’t. A courageous act promoted by Fred Vasseur, but one that made life more difficult for the Maranello team at the Miami International Autodrome in Florida, USA.
Sergio Perez, the Red Bull driver who started the race from pole position, even after the conclusion of the final free practice session, admitted to not having understood anything about the setup of the car, but then managed to put his RB19 in front of everyone. In Milton Keynes, they rationalized the data just like Aston Martin and Mercedes did. In particular, the staff in Brackley was able to extract the maximum from the W14, which is about to be “scrapped”, putting the black arrow in front of the red car. This says it all…
In short, the Scuderia we saw in action in Miami was a team that had lost its “touch”. Carlos Sainz’s fifth place and Charles Leclerc’s seventh do not reflect the potential of the SF-23, which, continuing its growth path, should have confirmed itself as the first challenger of the Austrian side.
It is clear that things went wrong in America: the work on the simulator in preparation for the Miami Grand Prix was wrong, and a common denominator to make it work decently was never found. Frederic Vasseur admitted that it was not just a tire wear problem, but also a variation in the car’s behavior from one lap to the next.
Carlos Sainz defended himself with the medium tires in the first stint and struggled with the hard ones, the exact opposite of what happened to Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque tried to work with an aggressive setup to seek performance in the fast lap (more camber and a stiffer setup), and the red car crashed twice, while the Spaniard, with more conservative solutions, defended himself better, but without great highlights.
Miami was a great lesson for the Maranello team because it highlighted deficiencies that are not just technical but also in the organization of work between home and the track and more generally in the management of the race weekend. This year’s single-seaters are proving to be very complex to set up and difficult to interpret: Ferrari does not seem to express its best in extracting everything there is in the SF-23, a “crazy” red car with an unpredictable behavior, capable of taking those who work on it off track.
The operating window of the SF-23 car, even more than that of the tires, seems too narrow: Ferrari is very “pitch-sensitive”. It loses a lot of aerodynamic load when the ride height varies. To turn tightly, it would be necessary to aim for very stiff setups, but then you have to deal with bouncing, (as Charles Leclerc revealed at the end of the race) and on curbs, especially in direction changes, the red car jumps like a grasshopper.
The problem is not only aerodynamic: it is not a coincidence that we will see a specially revised rear suspension at Imola, to offer more setup options. One thing is evident: this Ferrari has not yet found the fateful zero point from which to start development. And the Miami disaster has further contributed to the chaos.