MEDLAND: The curious case of the sluggish Ferraris
Can I simply begin this week’s column by mentioning that, whereas we’ve many failings, not all Method 1 journalists are full idiots.
I say that since you’d in all probability have each proper to suppose we’re based mostly on the Australian Grand Prix end result. For most individuals within the paddock, Ferrari was the favourite heading to Melbourne. And that was not a place simply conjured out of skinny air. The SF90 seemed the category of the sphere in Barcelona testing, whether or not you watched it trackside, caught an onboard, or spent hours delving into the lap instances.
After all Mercedes wasn’t being written off. There was clear progress between the primary and second checks, and weaknesses the group hoped to enhance upon within the two weeks earlier than Melbourne. However Ferrari had the identical period of time obtainable to try to additional strengthen its place.
Even when that didn’t occur, no less than Ferrari knew it had a secure and responsive automotive that each drivers had nice confidence in – one thing that might be vital on the non permanent Albert Park circuit.
Fairly clearly, one thing went very, very improper.
That the lead Ferrari was practically a minute behind race-winner Valtteri Bottas is fairly exceptional. If I’d been inserting a wager, I’ll nonetheless admit I’d have put cash on it being extra doubtless such a margin could be between a dominant Ferrari and the remainder of the sphere than a number one Mercedes after testing.
However worrying indicators from the Friday didn’t disappear, as Ferrari struggled to get its automotive working in Melbourne and Mercedes dominated. And it leaves loads of regarding questions for the Scuderia heading to Bahrain.
Options that the facility unit wanted to be run at a restricted capability might maintain weight, given the group misplaced a full morning of operating throughout pre-season testing attributable to points with the cooling system that wanted investigating. However then you definately’d count on such a significant concern to have been addressed earlier than Australia. In any case, Haas and Alfa Romeo appeared to don’t have any such issues…
It’s additionally true that the bumpy nature of Albert Park may be very totally different to Barcelona and Bahrain, so if the automotive’s aerodynamic philosophy was much more delicate to the road circuit then a transparent acquire must be seen at race two.
However there’s no two methods about it, Ferrari left Australia fully devoid of solutions.
“Final yr we left winter testing with issues on the automotive,” Sebastian Vettel admits. “It wasn’t behaving the way in which we needed it, the way in which it ought to. This yr was the other, the automotive was behaving the way in which we anticipated and it felt excellent.
“That’s why we got here (to Australia) final yr and the stability wasn’t proper, as a result of we needed to cowl up. We had a really poor rear finish final yr, and felt we needed to trim the automotive in the direction of understeer quite a bit. That didn’t really feel nice. We managed for the weekend final yr, and the race tempo was nice, however we weren’t there in qualifying.
“We acquired fortunate within the race, however I believe by Bahrain we had mounted all our points from winter testing final yr within the first race, and that’s why I believe we hastily unlocked much more tempo for final yr.
“This yr, the issue that we’ve has nothing to do with what we’ve seen final yr. Clearly we’re lacking one thing. Proper now, we don’t have a solution, however we have to have a very good look and I’m certain we’ll discover one thing, as a result of we all know that the automotive is healthier than what we’ve seen, not simply (within the race in Melbourne) however the entire weekend.”
Such is the relentless tempo that F1 groups work at, Ferrari would possibly effectively consider it has discovered a number of the solutions by now, however will solely get a real studying when the SF90 runs on observe in Bahrain.
A much bigger concern stems from the truth that Ferrari didn’t understand there was an issue in any respect. As Vettel factors out, final season the group left pre-season testing with apparent weaknesses that it needed to try to iron out. Options could possibly be labored upon, and regardless that they weren’t prepared in time for Melbourne, there have been adequate enhancements by the second race that Vettel then went on to safe three consecutive pole positions.
That doesn’t imply the automotive was good. Bottas might effectively have gained in Bahrain however by no means risked a lunge on Vettel within the closing laps, and the Finn in all probability ought to have gained the 2 races after that in China and Azerbaijan however for an unfortunately-timed Security Automotive and a dramatic late-race puncture respectively.
In some ways now, the shoe is on the opposite foot. Mercedes began pre-season testing with a automotive it was sad with, understood the explanations for it and managed to show that into the strongest package deal by far on the opening spherical.
The potential Ferrari confirmed in Barcelona and its capacity to enhance a difficult automotive in the beginning of final yr must be causes for optimism forward of Bahrain. However the surprising droop in Australia and lack of solutions throughout the race weekend scale back confidence that there will likely be a fast repair. And it’s not like the person tasked with discovering these fixes doesn’t have sufficient on his plate.
Very like the inaccurate predictions of Ferrari dominance in Australia, I used to be one among many who anticipated that the most important headache group principal Mattia Binotto was prone to face this season to return from the driving force line-up.
Indicators of that did crop up in Melbourne, the place Charles Leclerc was instructed to carry place behind Vettel within the closing phases because the lead automotive struggled for tempo, however in actuality that was a easy name that many groups make after the ultimate spherical of pit stops with no different threats to fret about.
Binotto’s mindset now would be the identical as he wanted in his outdated function of technical director. He doesn’t want to fret about managing private dynamics, egos or general group ambiance, he wants black and white options to engineering issues.
All of it implies that Bahrain must be completely fascinating. If Binotto’s group can discover these solutions then an enormous battle between Ferrari, Mercedes and Pink Bull could possibly be within the offing. If not, then the one Ferrari fights will likely be inner.
If the previous few seasons are something to go by, Ferrari can’t afford to overlook alternatives in the beginning of the yr. It must be forward of the sport, not enjoying catch-up.