Sebastian is not that different of a driver than he was in 2017 or 2013, just to mention two years when he was perfect behind the wheel. Probably as early as the second half of 2018 with the SF71-H the development direction moved away from his comfort zone. In fact, Raikkonen, coming out of Maranello, during the last season’s GPs seemed, or rather demonstrated, much more consistency than the German. I don’t want to take it too far, on the other hand what we see today, this year, is a consquence of what happened with the SF90, and born of that “after Monza” period two years ago. In some ways the updates on the SF71-H no longer worked for the German from Singapore onwards. The exact opposite (it seems absurd) of what happened last year, coinciding with the last victory of Ferrari and Sebastian in F1 so far. There he found something in the car, confirming it, beyond the final result, in the race in Sochi and in qualifying at Suzuka.
The issue, however, was always the same. On the 2018 Ferrari, at a certain point, the thread of development on the rear end was lost, with an incalculable number of attempts, discarded and then re-proposed floors, none of which gave the rear the extra stability Vettel demanded. We then come to the SF1000, designed along the lines of the SF90, but designed to carry more downforce.
Let’s remember that at the time the project was ultimated (pre Covid-19, a different time, a different world), Seb hadn’t been discarded at all and his performance still mattered to the team… and quite a lot, too.
Due to what we all know happened after the new FIA directives, Ferrari found themselves with half their horsepower and consequently without rear wing to compensate. Take a look at the 2020/2019 backtrain, and you’ll notice for yourself. Ferrari then enters a vicious cycle, a dark tunnel. They need a lot of time, data and working hours to try and improve what they can, but at that point all the adjustments have to be made with 2021 in mind. Months of sacrifice, then.
“The two cars are absolutely identical. There should be no doubt about that. I hope that Vettel can qualify better at Imola. His driving skills are unquestionable, he just needs to be able to start further ahead on the grid in order to be able to demonstrate them. Charles is certainly doing a great job, but more is expected of our second driver…”
Mattia Binotto, beyond the controversy over the “second driver”*, makes it clear that the cars are identical, and that it’s important that Vettel doesn’t doubt that. Then it might as well be that maybe, behind closed doors, they both weight each other’s words very carefully.
From what I know the cars are the same. What differs between them are specific settings in relation to the turbocharger, which is much more aggressive for Charles Leclerc. The Monégasque driver manages it in a more productive manner, while his teammate, on the contrary, struggles with the innate and inherited instability on the SF1000, settling for more prudent driving. This in the race usually allows him a good management of tyres on rear limited tracks unlike Portimao. Clearly this is not very noticeable because for months now Seb has been living in traffic, as if he were driving on the ring road.
Few people have noticed a new front wing introduced in Portugal. It carried relatively less downforce compared to the high load profiles used by everyone. This is a good sign, which confirms that [Ferrari] could found some DWF points elsewhere on the car, perhaps in the bargeboards area. The result is a better overall performance, more efficiency, seen with Leclerc, also thanks to Portimao’s track design. Very demanding and technical cornering but without repeated and/or long straights, without direction changes at medium-high speeds that penalize the SF1000 too much, especially when it is forced to turn without a lot of wing.
We must also note how Charles Leclerc has improved his performance in the race, both in his tyre management and in dosing his aggressiveness. At this moment he has reached a very high and consistent level, lap after lap. Of course, the car number 16 crossed the finish line more than a minute behind an exceptional Hamilton, but as far as the result go this year for the Scuderia, we note that compared to previous GPs it was not a Safety Car that reset the gap to zero and that Charles went through several stages during the race: the first with a controlled pace after getting rid of Sainz (fuel saving) the second with a really good pace which was almost, if not equal, to that of Verstappen, engaging him even if at a distance. The third, in full trye and fuel management, +2s on his slowest lap, when he realised that Max’s Medium tyres were not going to give up.
Scuderia Ferrari made a step forward, not so much in the car’s balance (where if there ever were one, we’d mostly observe it in Sebastian Vettel’s performance), but in getting the best out of their current package and showing its potential [for 2021] – with only Charles Leclerc able to extract that performance from it for the reasons above mentioned…