Monza offer a special or real one-off in Formula 1?
Although Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc ultimately couldn’t do much to prevent Red Bull from achieving a 1-2 second place finish, being able to at least compete with the current Formula 1 record team was something to be proud of after the 2023 season. It has its fair share of frustrations.
But while Ferrari returned to their base in Maranello this week buoyed by an emotional weekend in front of the jubilant Tifosi, there remains a great deal of ambiguity about what its showing at the Italian Grand Prix means going forward.
The really key question is whether Ferrari’s home showing was simply the result of throwing the kitchen sink at the home sparkle, or whether it represented something more important in its pursuit of progress with the SF-23.
There is no denying that Ferrari did everything they could for Monza.
While Red Bull shied away from introducing an all-new wing package for its low-downforce track and opted for just a trimmed top fender, Ferrari ran a custom Monza spoiler with a flatter main surface than teams typically opt for with the current spoiler. car generation.
It also chose to introduce all-new power units for the weekend, knowing full well that new engines always provide more oomph.
There were whispers in the paddock that Ferrari had done the equivalent of bumping it up to 11 in an effort to extract every last bit of horsepower from it, but this was something Vasseur denied.
“We didn’t take any more risks than Zandvoort,” he said.
The end result was Ferrari’s most competitive ride of the year, with the team maximizing the opportunity it had as the SF-23 seemed to be more competitive in low downforce settings.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23
Photo: Zac Mauger/Motorsports Pictures
When flank levels are low – as is the case at circuits such as Austria, Montreal, Canada and Spa-Francorchamps – the Ferrari is much better compared to the opponent than on high-downforce circuits. It stops off peaks and this allows the drivers to gain more confidence as well.
This was proven by the inconsistent performances that Ferrari suffered on back-to-back weekends at Zandvoort and Monza. From crashing as a result of car stress one weekend, to being able to battle wheel-to-wheel to the limit the next.
Low downforce supports the view that Ferrari’s success in the Italian Grand Prix may be a one-off, as when wing tiers return to Singapore and Japan, the order will adjust again as Mercedes and Aston Martin continue to push ahead again. As the main opponent of Red Bull.
But while Vasseur joked Sunday night that the best way forward is probably to keep the downforce configuration all around, he’s pretty confident that the 2023 trend could soon be broken.
He noted that a lot of the work done over the weekend at the Dutch Grand Prix helped open up some new directions in preparation that could help Sainz and Leclerc continue to shine in higher downforce positions.
“We did a good test in Zandvoort to try and understand the situation,” he said when asked by Motorsport.com about the downforce problems. “But understanding is one thing, fixing it is another. But at least we are trying to understand the situation better.”
In fact, Vasseur claims its run in first practice at the Dutch Grand Prix was different than usual, as it was entirely dedicated to testing and understanding the car rather than normally focusing on specific preparations for the weekend.
“You may remember that we did some testing in FP1 and sacrificed FP1 for the sake of testing,” Vasseur added.
“We had to collect data to get a better view of the situation. Now the next step is to fix it. It’s also clear that we don’t have much time to do the steps, but at least to understand that problem is a step forward.”
Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal and General Manager, Scuderia Ferrari
Photography: Eric Junius
Ferrari clearly understands the factors at play in the SF23’s diverse look, even if the team is keeping things close to its chest.
Leclerc’s driver coach, Jock Clear, said at Monza that he wouldn’t reveal any details about what was going on, but noted that Ferrari’s knowledge is very advanced. And it’s not just that the car is fast on the straight lines.
“From a track point of view, we understood from those previous races that there were conditions in which this car would be competitive all the way out,” said Clear.
“Even if you look at Austria, or you look at Spa, it wasn’t like we were only competing on the straights, or we were just controlling the corners. We were competitive everywhere.
“And that’s what I saw (at Monza). We were competitive in the corners, where we usually struggle, like Turn 11. So, it’s different here. I think we understand a lot of that. But I’m not going to share it with you.”
But the key question now is whether all this knowledge about the SF-23’s low downforce brilliance, and high downforce struggles, can be applied to deliver what is needed to shine on the courts to come.
And Clear believes there are some direct lessons from Monza – such as the way the team put the car in the window to better attack the barriers – that will help in the following circuits.
“One of the things you get here (in Italy) is good control of your mechanical balance,” he said.
“The pavement ride has been really good, because we worked on that in this event, and I think we can take it further. But I think we will take it race by race.”
Despite this step forward in confidence, Ferrari is under no illusions about matching their level at Monza everywhere, especially in high-downforce stadiums such as Singapore.
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23
Photography: Eric Junius
But Clear thinks there is now a better chance for Ferrari to get more of the SF-23 on the courts where it has the best potential, and Las Vegas appears to be a place with very low downforce.
“We know this animal very well now,” he said. He added: “There will be races later in the year where we feel we are going to be more competitive, and they will be races where we are not going to have maximum downforce.
“We’ll go into Singapore with maximum downforce though. But it doesn’t look as if we’re going to give up on Singapore, because there’s a lot we can learn from Zandvoort about what we need to do with the car in Singapore.
“But still, this isn’t going to be a race we’re going to go to and look at that level of performance right away – unless we make some big improvements!”