Red Bull impress, Ferrari struggle to optimise the SF-23

After an intense three days of testing, the teams have some time to recover in Bahrain before the first race of the season. Early indications suggest the RB19 is ready to perform, while the Ferrari SF-23 seems to be a step behind – as technicians search for the right balance.

Mercedes also appears to be on the back foot, awaiting their first upgrade package, with the team growing increasingly concerned about the Aston Martin threat – rather than worrying about Ferrari and Red Bull ahead.

The new cars have generally proven more reliable than last year’s cars. This allowed the drivers to push – at times – more aggressively, without fear of breaking sensitive parts such as the bottom.

In the lateral compression phase, or when passing on the curbs, the 15 mm increased height of the edges has given engineers some breathing space:

“Last year, we were terrified of breaking everything, this year – for various reasons – much less. This means the drivers seem to have pushed even harder with the new tyres,” said an engineer after the tests.

The new Pirellis were difficult to fully understand for obvious reasons. Despite the dedicated tests with old cars and the many simulations, christening new cars on the track can always reveal surprises. 

Mario Isola said he was satisfied with the team’s work, adding that the confidence of the riders seemed to increase significantly as they completed more laps. The new tires are 1.5 seconds faster on average than the old tires, which leads us to think that Pole Position in 2023 could be around the 1:29s.

Pirelli’s aim was to reduce understeer by increasing front grip. The new tire structure has already met its target of significantly lower tire pressure requirements.

This is something drivers enjoy as it results in more grip. On the other hand, the balance teams must strive for has changed significantly since last year.

The RB19 seems ready, Ferrari is working to extract the potential of the SF-23.

Despite Checo Perez setting the best time, Max Verstappen was the stand-out driver from testing in his Red Bull.

The Dutchman was impressive in how quickly he adjusted to the car and – more importantly – the long pace necessary to show he is highly competitive. The RB19 is an improved RB18, showing very few weaknesses in any area.

The designers at Milton Keynes seem to have built upon last year’s foundations, with their overall concept from last year seemingly the best one on the grid.

If anything, the team has been able to push the extremes, as seen with the different sidepods and the even flatter front wing configuration, with very low drag. 

Whilst the reigning Champions have been impressive, the Ferrari SF-23 has been something of a diva, although it seems the Austrian team’s closet challenger.

Mercedes are still playing catch-up, and appear to be fighting with similar issues that plagued them last year.

Missed development targets were already admitted by Hamilton during the team’s launch, whilst Aston Martin looks to have kept their promises of encouraging simulation data – emerging as potential podium challengers.

The lower midfield, on the other hand, remains rather difficult to analyze and form any definitive order.

Although Max Verstappen will be pleased with the chemistry he quickly formed with the RB19, Red Bull’s rivals are fighting to close the gap.

Ferrari seems to be the only car capable of worrying the World Champion team, despite their issues from testing.

The SF23 still has some potential to unlock, showing glimpses of encouraging pure performance.

It goes without saying that only Ferrari’s technicians know their precise testing plan and how much fuel they had for their long runs – which were not especially convincing.

The new rear wing fitted to Leclerc’s car on the final day of testing is a clear evolution of an older specification and showed the use of a slightly different load via the main plane

Ferrari’s issues frustrated engineers who were counting on an opportunity to accumulate a lot of data for simulations.

On the other hand, the team has identified issues that it can now try to rectify for round one in Bahrain and beyond.

SF-23: Balance issues related to load and ground clearance, aerodynamic corrections on the way.

During the three days of testing, Ferrari carried out some rather extreme tests in terms of suspension stiffness, ground clearance, etc.

The team’s so-called ‘scan’ of the track began to bear some fruit, giving the team information on the best options for a good baseline setup to maximize the new Ferrari SF-23.

A source confirmed to us that the Ferrari SF-23 revved higher to limit harmful bouncing. This is not ideal, although this rather conservative approach is expected to become far more aggressive in free practice.

The car has the potential to be much faster than the F1-75, but it seems more difficult to push to its limits due to an aerodynamic limitation on the front discovered by the technicians. 

Ferrari’s SF-23 suffered from understeer, particularly with less grip due to the higher track temperatures. This was unexpected, putting Leclerc in more difficulty than Sainz.

This is a limitation that aerodynamicists will look to correct; with Ferrari’s Monegasque driver and David Sanchez having a discussion on this area.

The most positive factor, on the other hand, has to do with the efficiency gain, which has been significant. 

According to a rival engineer, the GPS of the Ferrari SF-23 showed that it is potentially faster than the F1-75 by 10 km/h at the same load.

As such, unlike in 2022, it is possible that we will see SF-23 in better shape in Jeddah than in Bahrain.

Meanwhile,  the new rear wing  – with more downforce –  will be available for the race weekend, whilst the front wing will have an updated element design – expected to arrive from Melbourne. 

Red Bull impressed and showed a clear advantage on long runs. It remains to be seen what will happen when everyone turns up their power units. It is possible Red could have a power advantage of 2/3 tenths.

However, at least on paper, the team may be unable to fully exploit this right away. Ferrari’s performance always generates hysteria, but balance is needed. If the potential is there, it will come out.

Aston Martin a potential threat to Mercedes (and Ferrari).

If the Maranello team lacked perfect consistency, Aston Martin found it in abundance.

Alonso’s AMR23 looks like a car with great potential. If we look at 2022, it would appear the Silverstone team has produced the most significant performance improvement, over 1.5 seconds, despite the aerodynamic limitations.

The Spaniard’s long run was solid and could worry the top teams, especially if Ferrari or Mercedes experience issues.

It is understood that Aston Martin may have hidden a little less than the big teams on their long runs, simulating the limits closest to a real race in tests.

It is no coincidence that the team continues to insist on staying calm and managing expectations. 

Finally, it should be noted that the similar concept between Alfa, Aston and Red Bull seems to coincide positively in terms of tire wear and porpoising.

It can be no accident that this aerodynamic design has provided efficiency, stability and an overall level of downforce that can be easily optimized with tweaks to balance.

Curiously, all these teams in testing showed suitable ground clearance and very good control of tire degradation, especially with the softer compound.

With all of this said, it must be remembered that Bahrain could hold plenty of surprises this weekend. The 2023 championship will be very long, and Sakhir is not the best circuit to extract definitive judgements. 

Author:  Giuliano Duchess
Piergiuseppe Donadoni

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang