Ferrari’s SF-23 improves, McLaren emerges as Mercedes threat

McLaren

Red Bull and Max Verstappen were unrivalled in Suzuka, as the Dutchman claimed a dominant victory with the RB19Max’s pace on worn tyres was often comparable to others on fresh sets, showing his clear superiority. Ultimately, Verstappen just had to avoid losing position at the start to have a clean race.

Red Bull achieves what everyone in the paddock expected after Jeddah, their sixth constructors’ title, at a stellar average of 39 points per event. Their nearest challengers are far away, although Sergio Perez could and should have made the points deficit bigger.

Ferrari started 2023 very badly but are slowly understanding the SF-23 – even on circuits where it is necessary to strengthen the front axle – closing the gap to Mercedes. The needless fight between Russell and Hamilton would not have pleased Toto Wolff, who had to intervene remotely from the hospital to calm the situation.

The W14 remained a little unbalanced throughout the weekend, but it could find itself in better shape in Qatar if the circuit requires maximum load from everyone. It’s hard to believe that the swing is over. The most alarming development from 2023 will be that Aston Martin and now McLaren – two customer teams – have outperformed the Silver Arrows.

McLaren started even worse than the Maranello team but is now showing important continuity. From Silverstone onwards, McLaren have been second-fastest, gaining 10 points on Ferrari, 14 on Mercedes and 76 on Aston Martin.

Certain technical weaknesses cannot be fully overhauled, and McLaren does not enjoy the best power unit. Nonetheless, McLaren has done a lot in terms of design to transform itself into a car with Red Bull-like characteristics

The team led by Andrea Stella appears the only outfit to have understood how the concept conceived by Newey and Wachè works.

Suzuka is an end-of-season benchmark when you have to take stock of overall aerodynamic efficiency. The MCL60 is the closest car to the RB19 when it comes to side loading or high-speed gear changes, so it was able to use Ferrari’s lighter wing specification, increasing efficiency.

Norris – even more than Piastri – had an excellent race, but the disadvantage does not improve with a high fuel load. Everyone needs to take a winter step to get closer to managing the tires like Red Bull does.

Ferrari engineers confirmed the new fund, but the podium was not within reach

In Japan, Ferrari has introduced a new floor modified in all areas, from the conveyors to the diffuser. If we compare it with the specification at the beginning of the season, the evolution of the external edge area is visible; we note how the SF-23 had to give up an important surface to correct the porpoising with an inevitable loss of load.
The new floor helped Leclerc and Sainz, making the SF-23 at Suzuka more predictable at a circuit that would have been more difficult several months ago.
Both drivers confirmed notable improvements in Friday’s free practice. The weekend in Qatar will be interesting to confirm the improving trend, even on circuits not exactly suited to the SF-23, where a high level of load is required.
Comparison between the old and new surfaces of the Ferrari SF-23 introduced at Suzuka – Illustration Rosario Giuliana

In this regard, at Losail, the teams will face two important unknowns: no inherited reference in 2022 since the cars of this generation have never raced there. There will be the Sprint Race, where Verstappen could also become Triple World Champion even before the main event.

Aston Martin in free fall despite Alonso’s clear feedback

What McLaren is doing, Aston did at the beginning of the year. However, the green car is no longer the same. The team’s technicians admit to taking the wrong direction and are preparing corrections for the end of 2023. Their development is therefore not finished, but performance is in sharp decline. In Miami, the AMR23 with a new rear wing had eliminated the efficiency gap from Red Bull, something that today seems surreal to think about.

“It’s difficult in traffic. We lack speed on the straight; when we open the DRS, the car in front still runs away from us,” said Fernando Alonso after the race, adding that the team is working in the factory “at full capacity to bring some new parts before at the end of the year.”

Alonso described the Japanese GP as encouraging, despite his AMR23 lacking the speed to fight for a podium – unable to meet Suzuka’s various demands. In the last few races, predicting the green car will be difficult.

Their last podium was in Holland, and Qatar isn’t that different in terms of load. In the meantime, however, the TD018 directive on flexibility has come into force.

It is not a verdict, but according to the data from Suzuka, after Singapore, the worst cars on the straight – among the top teams – were Aston and Mercedes.

Author: Giuliano Duchessa

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang