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Ferrari Will Break Your Heart

Everything goes awry for the Scuderia

Bit of a weekend to forget for Carlos Sainz and Charles LeClerc. With a second and sixth in the Sprint race yesterday and poised for good points today against Red Bull everything went pear shaped for Sainz on the very first lap and it was clear early on that LeClerc didn’t have the race pace to compete with the Red Bulls. An aggressive attack on the kerbs in the closing laps spun LeClerc and a recovery for P6 was the best he could muster against the resurgent Red Bulls.
Max Verstappen
Here are the themes you should pay attention to:
Mercedes
Why is Hamilton so far behind Russell? My theory is that even in the state that it’s in, the Mercedes is an upgrade from the Williams that Russell was in. Hamilton hasn’t dealt with such a “downgrade” of cars before whereas this is still a relative upgrade for Russell. It could also just be that the Merc is more suited to how Russell likes to drive. Drivers have their own style that they naturally fall to and perhaps it’s more up George’s street than Lewis’. 

All of that aside, it’s quite clear that Mercedes has a lot of work ahead of itself. The porpoising of the car is very apparent at just about any speed which causes the downforce balance from front to rear to change dramatically at the entry of any given turn. Drivers need a predicable car and it does not look predictable at all. That being said, if there’s a team that can develop itself out of this hole it’s Mercedes. It’s an extremely talented team with loads of smart folks back at the factory.

Red Bull Reliability
I haven’t seen any information to say for sure, but all 4 Red Bull (Honda) powered cars finished the race today, 3 of which were in the points. If they’ve got their early reliability issues fixed we will watch the Ferrari points advantage be erased quite quickly. The reason for that is:

Race Pace
With the wet conditions of today’s race, we had DRS (Drag Reduction System) disabled for a good chunk of the race. I believe it was lap 35 that it was finally enabled. This gave us a really good look at the cars’ raw race pace unaided by DRS which is a bit of an artificial assistant and can mask pace problems a car may inherently have. What we saw was the Red Bulls scamper away from the Ferrari of Charles LeClerc. At one point Perez made a mistake and rolled through the grass at a chicane, allowing LeClerc to close up to about 0.3 seconds behind. Perez was able to re-open the gap to over a second within 2 laps, unaided by DRS. This tells me that the Ferrari absolutely relies upon DRS for its race pace and that without it they are sitting ducks to Red Bull’s raw pace.

Tire Degradation
We saw with the Sprint race yesterday that LeClerc’s tires wore towards the end giving Verstappen the chance to attack and win. We saw it confirmed today that the Ferrari is harder on its tires than the Red Bull, something that is not easy to overcome. How hard or easy a car is on its tires is often “baked in” to the chassis design and the overall neutral suspension setup. There are some things you can do in order to ease a car’s use of the tires but at this point a team may be compromising elsewhere.

Aerodynamic Regulation Changes Have Worked
Today we saw cars race much closer than at any time during the hybrid V6 engine era. With the lack of DRS for a good portion of the race we were able to see just how close cars could follow for an extended period and the result was some fantastic wheel-to-wheel scraps lasting many laps. Formula 1 and the FIA have got it right! Drivers seem to no longer need to drop so far back in order to preserve their tires and wait for the best moment to attack the driver in front. Instead they can stay with the driver in front placing constant pressure on them, pushing them into a mistake and then pouncing on the opportunity. We saw plenty of passing today even without DRS and it was all thanks to the new aero regulations.

So, on the back of Red Bull scoring 1 point shy of every point they possibly could have this weekend, they are right back in the fight with Ferrari and Verstappen’s hopes at retaining his title get all the better. Red Bull is only 11 points shy of Constructors’ Championship leader Ferrari, and Verstappen is now 27 points behind Drivers’ Championship leader LeClerc.

See you in Miami in 2 weeks!

-Jared
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