Charles Leclerc conquered the Pole Position in Spa despite being eight-tenths behind Max Verstappen, although he finished within two-tenths of a second in the Sprint shootout, with a mistake at turn 12, which compromised an important result.
Ferrari was competitive on Friday, and also on Saturday, it showed pole potential, both in the rain and in the dry.
This showed the SF-23 was competitive on the flying lap, which arrived in Belgium with a basic set-up and an aerodynamic setup decided by the simulator that convinced engineers and satisfied pilots.
Ferrari: basic setup promoted by the drivers, and Leclerc improves his driving style in mixed conditions
A weekend with the Sprint Race format and variable conditions requires the teams to get to the track with the most satisfactory basic set-ups, developed practically only by the simulator.
In fact, there is no time to go too far with comparative tests and set-up experiments.
One of Ferrari’s ‘strengths’ is to be able to often bring an SF-23 to the track with a good basic set-up, allowing their drivers to immediately start work focused on their driving style and perfecting the setup, without complete upheavals – as is often the case in Mercedes or in the past in the Maranello team itself.
Carlos Sainz loves rainy or mixed conditions and has had no problems since the first lap of FP1 in adapting to the Spa circuit, showing himself to be very competitive only to then make a small mistake on the last lap of Q3 which cost him a few tenths he would have put him 1-2 positions ahead, instead coming within a few thousandths of a second of Pole yesterday.
On Friday, Sainz knows very well where he paid the missing tenths to fight with Perez or even his teammate “I had a bad scare between turns 8 and 9, which certainly cost me something.”
In fact, the stretch between turn seven and turn nine was fatal for the Spaniard, where he passes, compared to Perez, with 6 km/h, 11 km/h and 10 km/h less, which cost much more than the gap taken at the end of the lap.
However, the spotlights were all on Charles Leclerc, who candidly admitted, in recent weeks, that he has problems when it comes to driving on mixed conditions, i.e. with a wet track that is starting to dry out.
At Silverstone and Hungary, we saw a very determined Monegasque who, even in extreme conditions, asked the team to be able to stay out, without risk, to try to improve what is one of his weak points and the results were seen in Belgium.
Charles said he finally felt at ease and able to push even in these conditions, and in fact, he was Verstappen’s first pursuer, setting the second fastest time on Friday and battling for Pole on Saturday.
The Ferrari talent changed his driving style to better adapt to the needs of the track, thus getting closer to his teammate’s style.
Carlos Sainz, in fact, has a more ‘V’ Style driving style, i.e. widening the entry trajectory to then aim the car out of the corner as soon as possible, limiting the time in which you are on the tightrope, increasing the time in which you stands on the brakes and anticipating the moment when you can go on the gas.
The Monegasque approached this style, thus refraining from rounding the trajectories too much or staying too inside, close to the apex of the corners, finding encouraging feedback which, as he himself said, gave him the confidence to pursue that path.
Charles worked with the team, including changing the hybrid settings, to be comfortable on the SF-23 in these conditions. Example of a driver with (indisputable) talent who still managed to improve himself while working.
The Evolved Ferrari SF-23 is a profoundly different car from the one that started the World Championship
The evolution of the SF-23 has had three milestones in 2023, two more visible and one less so.
The most relevant ones were the change of philosophy of the bellies in Spain and the introduction of the new front wing as well as a new bottom in Austria.
However, the first step was taken in Australia, a stage that often comes up in the words of riders and team principals, who clearly know the work done up to now and where the main steps forward have been made.
In Australia, a modified bottom was used, introduced and tested only in Jeddah, which served to partially limit the porpoising to extract more load from that part of the car, but above all, new mechanical adjustments were found.
Ferrari’s first important step was to find a mechanical setup that would allow the SF-23 to improve, getting closer to the simulations that were done in Maranello.
A new line of development was then pursued in Barcelona and Austria, revolutionizing the nature of the sidepods and floor with a new aerodynamic look, taking inspiration from more performance concepts that appeared on the grid (Red Bull and Aston Martin).
However, this does not erase the knowledge of more than a year of work at Maranello, thus remaining with a rather unique configuration of the sidepods.
The floor, instead, with the protruding Venturi Channels, in a more advanced position, clearly went in the direction of RB19 (or RB18). All this has produced significant changes in the behaviour of the car.
The SF-23 started the year with two great strengths: slow corners and the straight, with a low-drag car and, above all, a good Power Unit, especially in qualifying.
The great suffering was at high and, above all, medium speeds, where it is necessary to have a large load produced by the car.
The changes have distorted these data, with the first signals arriving from Australia with a new ‘mechanical base’, which then went better with the evolutions brought to the track later; this produced a relative loss at low speeds, where the others gained ground.
Still, the SF-23 has found a more stable rear, eliminating porpoising and increasing the overall downforce produced by the bottom, thus seeing it suffer less at medium-high speeds, even overtaking Aston Martin, in crisis, and a Mercedes that, with the updates brought a Spa is looking for a new important step forward in this area.
Load levels clearly make a difference in these analyses, but the SF-23, at both Silverstone and SPA, showed up with lighter configurations than Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren and was competitive in traits such as Copse, Maggots- Becketts and in the second sector of SPA (where only a dominant Verstappen and a very charged McLaren made the difference).
It maintains certain peculiarities under braking in the first and third sectors, achieving good results in the two Qualifying sessions and in the Sprint, exalting all the (not so many) strengths of the SF-23.
But the points are made in the race, and we have to understand if the set-up was chosen, rather than unloaded, will allow the SF-23 to go on the attack or only defend themselves against Mclaren and, above all, Mercedes, which today is the favourite to be the first team in the F2 championship, to put it to Toto Wolff.
Author: Paolo D’Alessandro
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang