Unfortunately the 2023 Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix concluded as anticipated, with Max Verstappen securing another dominant victory for Red Bull, while Ferrari clinched an uncontested second place. Even the Mercedes team, which had focused on setups geared towards safeguarding their rear tires in the scorching Sunday race rather than pushing for maximum performance in qualifying, couldn’t bridge the gap. Meanwhile, the W14 solidified its position as the third-strongest contender on the high-speed Monza circuit, maintaining a crucial second place in the Constructors’ Championship, as Ferrari surged ahead of Aston Martin to seize third position.
The SF-23 single-seater demonstrates its prowess on circuits with low downforce requirements, where sensitivity to ride heights plays a diminished role. The goals set by the Maranello team prior to the weekend were to secure a front-row starting position in Saturday’s qualifying and subsequently clinch a podium finish on Sunday. However, as the weekend unfolded, it became evident that they could aim even higher, particularly regarding the first of these objectives. Team principal Fred Vasseur was candid in post-qualifying interviews, expressing the ambition to claim the pole position.
For the fourteenth race of the season, excluding Imola, the SF-23 operated in an ultra-low downforce configuration, equipped with a fresh engine that had been electronically updated using the single software token permitted by the Federation for the 2023 Formula One campaign. These ‘tokens’ were originally employed to mitigate risks during the challenging prior season for the Italian power unit manufacturer by adjusting power output at the expense of maximum potential. However, this year’s focus shifted towards performance enhancement, employing a different electronic management approach. Notably, this type of token did not mandate a change of control units (CE), enabling the Italian team to proceed without incurring penalties.
Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur reflected on the current championship, emphasizing that the SF-23 had excelled on tracks characterized by low aerodynamic demands such as Canada, Baku, Austria, Belgium, and Monza. The SF-23 emerges as a well-optimized car when equipped with low-downforce packages, positioning it as the most balanced contender behind Red Bull. This configuration minimizes instabilities and reduces sensitivity to ride heights, albeit not entirely resolving the issue due to design constraints in 2023. Consequently, the car exhibits less vertical movement on these circuits, resulting in a smaller performance delta between Saturday’s qualifying and the actual race. Furthermore, the car’s low drag further bolsters its performance, particularly on tracks like Monza where there is no need for a pronounced setup compromise, in contrast to circuits like Spa.
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However, when transitioning to high-downforce circuits, the SF-23 encounters increasing challenges. The car exhibits pronounced understeer and becomes demanding to balance, with a heavily restricted front end, both aerodynamically and mechanically. Even a team member remarked that the front suspension appears “outdated” when compared to the RB19, offering limited setup flexibility. This technical concern extends to the rear suspension, which has been entirely reimagined for the 2024 car, as explained by F1 expert Piergiuseppe Donadoni for formu1a.uno
Balancing the rear of the SF-23 with a high-downforce package proves notably more intricate for Ferrari’s engineers and drivers due to the constraints imposed by the front end. Yet, this technical challenge is not the sole issue that has surfaced in recent races. The specific high-downforce rear wing developed in Maranello fails to perform as expected. Carlos Sainz conveyed their difficulties, citing a challenging weekend in Hungary and continued struggles in the Netherlands. According to Carlos Sainz, their high-downforce wings do not generate the expected downforce, preventing them from loading the car as effectively as their rivals and resulting in increased car instability.
This particular high-downforce specification leads to driver instability as speed fluctuates, primarily because the wing generates less downforce than anticipated in certain areas of the aerodynamic map compared to wind tunnel data. Consequently, Ferrari opted for a medium-high downforce configuration in both Spain and the Netherlands. After the Netherlands race, the first high-downforce track following Hungary, the team dedicated the initial hour of free practice to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. Subsequently, tailored wind tunnel tests in Maranello are scheduled to probe and interpret this predicament further. Sainz emphasized the importance of on-track testing, even in an increasingly simulation-driven Formula 1 environment, particularly with the latest generation of ground-effect cars. Such on-track tests play a crucial role in calibrating factory tools, allowing for the replication of all current car issues.
Ultimately, the goal is to adjust the simulator to yield a car that instills greater driver confidence, stability, and improved balance, with the intention of translating these findings to wind tunnel testing and the 2024 car project, as underscored by the consistently analytical and precise Carlos Sainz, who celebrated with the Tifosi his great solid in the Italian Grand Prix.