Bouncing and concept fears: Why the SF-23 struggled in Bahrain

Charles Leclerc in action in Bahrain with his Ferrari SF-23

Following the conclusion of F1’s first race of 2023, a more detailed analysis of this year’s pecking order can begin.

Among the top teams, Red Bull had a positive start to the season – whilst Aston Martin emerged as a potential contender.

Ferrari and Mercedes, meanwhile, flopped in the first round of the season. The Italian squad, in particular, was expecting a more positive start to the season.

Ferrari’s personnel in Maranello were pleased with excellent numbers coming out of their simulator facility.

This even prompted CEO Benedetto Vigna to make a very optimistic statement about the performance of the SF-23 on its release.

Unsurprisingly, there is now a sense of disorientation and concern within the team.

Ferrari SF-23: Front-limited, potential bouncing concerns

The SF-23 failed to replicate its impressive simulator numbers when it made its track debut – improving by just six-tenths in qualifying (compared to 2022) and making practically no progress in race trim.

Red Bull, by comparison, improved by almost a second – addressing the initial understeer of the RB18 (partly attributed to its excess overweight).

Sakhir’s Ferrari SF-23 had no problems with the new wing specification, which was used for the Grand Prix. Ultimately, this had little impact on the Scuderia’s struggles in Bahrain.

One of the fundamental questions for Ferrari is this: How far is Ferrari limited by its front-end and unexpected problems with porpoising?

This is not to say that teams did not anticipate porpoising would disappear in 2023, but the performance cost of reducing bouncing via set-up is crucial.

In short, all cars would have porpoising if they ran very aggressive set-ups (low ground clearance and soft suspension). The key is how much a car loses in finding the compromise between performance and minimizing porpoising – which can compromise the car’s internal elements.

For teams who only experience porpoising with very extreme set-ups, they can optimize their performance by playing ground clearance without suffering from bouncing.

Ferrari worked on this area plenty during testing, to the extent they experienced quite pronounced bouncing in long runs.

A  compromise was found to reduce ground clearance and, thus, generate more aerodynamic load (front and rear). However, this came at the cost of significant stiffness.

Initially, Ferrari’s set-up for the SF-23 – when pushed to the limit – was more suited to Carlos Sainz’s comfort with more understeer.

The SF-23 raced outside the ideal/virtual window in Bahrain, hence the discrepancy with the simulator data, although there was little more Ferrari could extract anyway.

The Maranello machine proved a very rigid car, coupled with inadequate load levels – albeit optimized for what the new Italian car allowed.

This contributed to a substantial difference in performance to Red Bull, especially in the slow parts of the Sakhir track – where the high-grip qualifying laps somewhat cover up the SF-23’s weakness.  This problem is then exposed during race trim.

Ferrari is convinced of the aerodynamic concept of the SF-23 

Aerodynamic bouncing is a problem that has impacted Ferrari since the start of last season, and which never really disappeared on the F1-75.

At the end of last season, Ferrari was the top team that suffered the most from porpoising – albeit to a lesser extent than at the start of the season. There was also some impact from TD39.

Ferrari F1-75 (2022) & Ferrari SF-23 (2023)

This problem reappeared quite frequently in Bahrain, limiting the car’s performance in Bahrain. It may be suggested that this is an inherent aspect of the Ferrari concept.

Following the implementation of the TD39 regulation last year, the Italian outfit’s performance has been limited by bouncing. At the Ferrari camp, however, they deny that it is a matter of aerodynamic concept.

We are absolutely convinced of our concept, explained Fred Vasseur in a press conference to selected media:

I am convinced that we will not have to move in another direction.

Ferrari’s correlation issues could stem from the use of set-ups in the simulator, which, on track, could not be feasibly used.

It is no coincidence that Vasseur spoke of ” set-up problems and some choices we made on the car” after the race – seemingly banking on the extreme nature of the Bahrain circuit, which can often exaggerate a car’s issues.

Ferrari SF-23 in Bahrain: floor and rear wing.

From this point of view,  the next round in Jeddah should be more favourable to the SF-23.

Smoother asphalt, less tire degradation and an easier set-up compromise should all be helpful. With this in mind, it is possible the SF-23 could close the gap to the RB19 – although this isn’t saying much.

Fred Vasseur spoke about to what extent conclusions can be drawn from Bahrain:

“Will it be necessary to see two or three different races to get a clearer picture? No, what we saw in Bahrain is already the general picture we have to expect.

However, it will remain very interesting to see how Ferrari takes to the track in the second round.

It cannot be forgotten that work on the 2024 car will start soon – so if there are any doubts about Ferrari’s concept, they must be clarified as quickly as possible.

Author:  Piergiuseppe Donadoni

Co Author: Giulano Duchess

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang