Examined: Monza data reveals how Ferrari took the fight to Red Bull

Uros Radovanovic
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc edges ahead of Carlos Sainz as the battle for the podium at Monza.

Ferrari opted not to issue team orders at the Italian GP.

Ferrari provided an exciting race for the Tifosi at their home race at Monza, Carlos Sainz clinging on to a hard-fought podium ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc.

Ferrari have been majorly disappointing overall this season after becoming victims of their own pre-season hype machine. However, the Italian Grand Prix showed us that they never give up.

Their progress was significantly visible, both in qualifying and in the race, so let’s take a closer look at Ferrari and their latest technical changes which have helped them find some much-needed improvement.

New Aerodynamics

Monza is a race that requires a completely different aerodynamic set-up compared to other tracks on the calendar. Long and fast straights with very few corners are the defining characteristics of this track that teams must adapt to.

Drivers at Monza are at full throttle for 80% of the track, which is by far the highest amongst all the F1 2023 tracks. Consequently, teams focus primarily on maximising the car’s speed, which you naturally want to be as high as possible.

You can increase top speed in various ways, but the most effective one is by adjusting the car’s aerodynamics. The main goal is to reduce the car’s drag, i.e., air resistance, to allow the engine to reach higher speeds than before. Therefore, teams bring new front and rear wings to Monza, which have a much smaller angle and thus less air resistance.

As a result, there is also less downforce, which significantly slows down the car in corners. But it is the straights and maximum speed that are crucial here.

Ferrari’s Aero Changes

Like the rest of the teams, Ferrari brought new front and rear wings to their home race. The angle at which they are set is much smaller, which significantly contributes to reducing the drag coefficient.

In the picture above, you can see the new design of the front wing, with a completely different upper flap. Additionally, the front wing plays an important role in directing airflow around the car, which is another way to increase maximum speed.

New Power Unit

Before the race in Monza, Ferrari announced that they would install a new power unit on both cars. Each team has access to four power units per car per season before grid penalties are applied. This is Ferrari’s fourth engine, so grid drops could be afoot in the final stages of the year.

This latest PU change brought them many advantages on the track. An unwritten rule is that a new power unit can produce more power and thus provide a speed boost to the driver. As the power unit “ages,” its performance diminishes.

However, it’s important not to forget that engineers now have much greater control over these machines than ever before. This means that engineers can “program” the engine’s operation as they see fit, thereby adapting its characteristics to a specific track or situation.

In the graph above, you can see the maximum speeds of each team during qualifying, in their fastest laps. After all the changes discussed, it’s not surprising to see Ferrari as the team with the highest maximum speed on the track – 350 km/h is truly impressive.

It’s worth noting that Ferrari, like some other teams on the grid, designed their car with a focus on reducing drag, thereby aiming for maximum speed. For the same reason, it’s not surprising that Williams and Alfa Romeo are also faster on straights than Red Bull.

If we return to the graph, we can see that Red Bull is nowhere near Ferrari in terms of maximum speed. The reason for this is that Red Bull used an “improvised” low downforce wing in Monza.

They didn’t design a completely new rear wing for Monza, as most teams do; instead, they made minor modifications to their medium-low downforce rear wing. Due to the incredible efficiency of their car, they can afford such a strategy at this moment and significantly save on finances.

Ferrari – the straight-line speed kings

Another very interesting analysis can provide us with a better understanding of the qualifying session and Ferrari’s advantages. The graph highlights in colours which team was the fastest in which parts of the track.

Of course, the straights are dominated by Ferrari, where their high maximum speed comes into play. Mercedes, due to their car’s aerodynamics being too draggy for Monza, made use of their excess downforce and were the best in braking zones. Moreover, Red Bull was the fastest in the last corner and the twisty part of the track.

This already showed us in qualifying that it would be very difficult to overtake Ferrari in the race. Additionally, Carlos Sainz drove an outstanding lap and secured pole position for Sunday.

Ferrari’s Tyre Issues

Of course, it wasn’t all rosy for the Italian team. They have been struggling with tyre issues for a significant part of this season. The mid-season change by Pirelli may have contributed to this problem.

Pirelli, the sole tire supplier, decided to change the tyre composition and make them harder than they were before. The main reason for this change is the progress made by F1 teams and the increased downforce that the cars now generate.

This is just our assumption – but what is certain is that this tyre issue has been plaguing Ferrari for a while. They cannot find the optimal tyre temperature during races, and their performance deteriorates faster compared to other teams. The following graph will illustrate this more effectively.

The graph represents the differences in lap times between drivers during the race – the purple colour represents Max Verstappen, while the pink represents Carlos Sainz.

Pay attention to the 14th lap of the race, the moment when Max took the lead. After that, Sainz’s times on the medium tyres deteriorated progressively due to poor tyre performance. Soon after, Leclerc also caught up with him and noticed the lack of grip in Sainz’s car, especially on the rear tyres.

Can Ferrari replicate this performance at other tracks

Improved aerodynamics and a new power unit brought Ferrari into the fight for the podium, and even a chance to compete for the top spot. Indeed, they are still far behind Red Bull, but it’s also important to be objective and acknowledge that Red Bull is leading a completely different battle this season at a different level.

It will be interesting to see if Ferrari can carry this positive momentum into the next race that awaits us.

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