Carlos Sainz has offered three plausible theories as to why Ferrari’s form has plummeted in recent Formula 1 races, saying the team needs to test its F1 car as there are “doubts that we want to eliminate of our heads”.
Sainz was referring specifically to the various struggles Ferrari faced at Spa and Zandvoort, the two tracks where it was well beaten by Red Bull and runaway F1 championship leader Max Verstappen in particular.
Sainz turned pole position at Spa into third place, nearly 27 seconds behind Verstappen – who won from 14th on the grid.
At Zandvoort, Charles Leclerc was narrowly beaten on pole by Verstappen (by just 0.021s) but would likely have finished the race behind the two Mercedes had it not been for the safety car interventions that helped him take third place.
“In general we weren’t as strong in the races as we would have liked,” said Sainz ahead of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
“Whether it’s from overheating tires, if it’s from others that have improved recently over the year with upgrades, or it’s from us just not optimizing the setup of the car for this particular race, that’s something that we’re obviously going to investigate.
“Personally, I suffered a bit of damage in contact with Lewis [Hamilton at Turn 1 at Zandvoort]it probably affected my race pace the whole race, which is probably why I wasn’t as competitive as my race pace on Friday and I wasn’t as comfortable with the car in the race.
“But I think the problem is much bigger than that – we just weren’t as competitive as we would have liked.
“There are going to be tests to do, things, doubts that we want to get out of our heads. See if we can get back to the rhythm of the race.
Analysis of Sainz’s three theories about Ferrari’s recent drop in pace leads to a line of thinking that poses another intriguing overarching question.
The drop in race pace is evident from Hungary, the last race before the summer break.
The Ferrari F1-75 had established seven pole positions in 12 dry qualifying sessions so far, as well as a wet pole for Sainz at Silverstone. Although only four victories were achieved during this period, the lag was generally not due to a lack of race pace.
WHY ARE TIRE TEMPERATURES SUDDENLY A PROBLEM?
Since Hungary, Ferrari has struggled to reconcile a good rise in temperature of its tires in qualifying and prevention of overheating in the race.
The early stages of last week’s Dutch Grand Prix showed the problem clearly, as Leclerc cut Verstappen’s lead but was then forced to pull back once more as his rear tires began to overheat. For Sainz, with a car damaged by his contact with Hamilton’s Mercedes at the first corner, the problem was even more acute.
For three races in a row – Hungary, Belgium and the Netherlands – Ferrari struggled to manage tire temperatures, having not encountered this problem in any of the previous races. There were tracks that highlighted the car’s tendency to overwork its outer front tire and cause graining. But there was no particular problem with the temperatures and now suddenly there is.
In that regard, Sainz is right – there is something recent here that Ferrari needs to master.
FERRARI’S RIVALS HAVE IMPROVED THEIR GAME
Red Bull continued to shed weight on their RB18, the car’s balance was continually refined with constant tweaks to its floorboards and it definitely got faster – at least in Verstappen’s hands.
Mercedes has also gotten a much better grasp of its troublesome W13 in recent races, and is now starting to tease its Ferrari-comparable speed.
So yes, part of what Ferrari is going through is due to what Sainz calls ‘other people improving’ – but Ferrari still has to wonder why it hasn’t been able to improve its own car at a similar rate. or better.
FERRARI DENIES IT, BUT DID THE FLEXI-FLOOR DIRECTIVE PLAY A ROLE?
It’s impossible to tell from the outside what configuration choices were made, and it’s clear that Spa’s layout was unsuited to the Ferrari’s strengths (cornering) and played to its inherent weakness (high-speed drag).
But there’s nothing about the Hungaroring or Zandvoort layout that should have caused more difficulty in set-up than the tracks the car blitzed on earlier in the season.
New technical guidelines for vertical accelerations and board mounting came into effect at Spa, a race after Ferrari lost pace.
Mattia Binotto categorically denied any influence of this on Ferrari’s lack of pace at Spa – but could it be that Ferrari ran to the new interpretation a race earlier, in order to prepare? And if so, is that the real reason for the car’s recent drop in pace?
What Sainz’s three theories about Ferrari’s loss of pace suggest – The Race