Ferrari’s best weekend of the season was in Singapore, continuing the team’s momentum from Monza. It was Red Bull’s most negative in a year, which found itself off the pace and working with a very small operating window.
According to the Milton Keynes team, the Singapore circuit’s characteristics were the biggest factor. However, there is speculation among rivals that the FIA’s latest technical Directives introduced in Singapore may have affected the setup window of the RB19.
Last year, the now well-known TD39 definitively destroyed the operating window of the Ferrari F1-75. This also limited the development of Ferrari’s SF-23, partly due to the new directive being applied relatively late.
The Ferrari SF-23 has more potential with an understeer setup
The SF-23 is an evolution of the F1-75. However, on track, these two cars have very different characteristics. This year’s package is much more efficient, especially with low-load packages, although it struggles more in corners.
Above all, the SF-23 is a car that suits Carlos Sainz’s driving style more than that of Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque’s dissatisfaction and concern were already evident during the pre-season tests in Bahrain.
In general, this new generation of ground-effect cars, coupled with the current Pirellis, does not really favour rotations under braking.
It is faster to take corners with a “V” shape, i.e. to brake with the wheels as straight as possible and make a sharper and more decisive turn before hitting the gas.
Less profitable, however, is a “U” driving style, i.e. shortening the entry into the corner, staying on the brakes with a greater steering angle and following a gentler trajectory mid-corner.
This new generation of cars is, therefore, generally more suitable for Carlos Sainz‘s driving style. However, Charles Leclerc was able to adapt to the technical demands of the new cars quickly.
Despite this, he is not fully comfortable in the SF-23, a car that greatly exaggerates the limits of these ground-effect cars.
It suffers from chronic understeer, especially mid-corner. This is coupled with instability and unwanted movement under braking.
“Carlos pushes me to understand my driving style a little more and try to adapt it to this car”, Charles Leclerc explained in Singapore.
“We can’t race with a lot of front end because the car becomes unpredictable and difficult to manage. It’s not that the SF-23 is an understeering car.
“It’s just that you have to put some understeer into the car to make it predictable, and this makes things more difficult for me,” concluded the Monegasque.
Under the SF-23’s current aerodynamic and mechanical configuration, it is possible to extract the potential within the Italian car.
This can be achieved by optimising speed on corner entry and corner exit rather than mid-corner. Mid-corner speeds must be reduced to a minimum to avoid causing the tyres to overheat due to strong slipping due to understeer.
Sainz’s driving style is, therefore, more profitable and more easily adaptable to extract greater potential from an otherwise complicated car.
He has proven especially strong in circuits like Baku or Singapore, for example. This is because the SF-23 is easier to optimise in terms of set-up, with emphasis on mid-corner speed reduced to a minimum.
In circuits where there are corners, it is more difficult. However, with lower load configurations, the SF-23’s instabilities decrease, and the car becomes more predictable for the drivers.
The Ferrari SF-23 still lacks a stable aerodynamic platform
“Our main weakness is from an aerodynamic point of view. We are working on that area to improve,” explained Enrico Cardile in Zandvoort.
It must be stressed that the SF-23’s issues go beyond aerodynamics. For example, the suspension plays a significant role in the car’s stability.
Here, the centre of pressure comes into play, which on a car like the SF-23 moves too much and generates strong unpredictability for the drivers.
Limiting the forward movement under braking is achievable, for example, with a front suspension with a strong degree of anti-dive (anti-dive).
This has been seen on the Bull RB19 and, to a lesser extent, on the Mercedes W15 with the modification made in Monte Carlo.
Lewis Hamilton benefited from these changes, unhappy at the beginning of the season with his car’s instability.
Coupled with a strong anti-dive front, the aerodynamics work to prevent pressure from moving too far rearwards once the car has stabilised.
Despite the enormous effort made last winter by Ferrari, not enough emphasis was placed on the SF-23’s front suspension.
As a result, the team’s initial concept was considered obsolete by Ferrari personnel after seeing those of the competition. Similarly also at the rear.
From an aerodynamic point of view, an important way to modify the centre of pressure is to intervene on the bottom.
Often modifications to the underbody are not designed with the sole function of increasing the load of a car, but also and above all of modifying and/or limiting some important characteristics and/or modifying the dynamic behaviour.
So far, in Maranello, they have focused their work on the surface, above all to first limit and then eliminate the phenomenon of porpoising, with a definitive intervention on the specific surface introduced in Austria.
In Suzuka, Ferrari will introduce an update to improve the coherence in the balance from corner entry to exit.
A macro component decided before the summer break, after analyzing the Red Bull surface seen in Monte Carlo, and which will have the task of making the car more drivable, albeit with all the important limitations of the case given that it was not decided to modify the platform mechanics of the SF-23.
To reduce the compromises, different suspension geometries are necessary. These changes will not arrive until next season.
Ferrari seems to have taken a step forward in the right direction, which the Suzuka circuit will further validate.
Still, no miracle is expected on a complicated circuit for the SF-23, a car which is still very front-limited.
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang