Verstappen masters qualifying: A few tenths cost Sainz the front row

Jaden Diaz
1 Apr, 2023

Max Verstappen claimed Pole Position in dominant fashion at Albert Park, breaking into the 1:16s and fending off the resurgent Mercedes duo. The Dutchman also keeps the Aston Martins and Ferraris at a safe distance, although Carlos Sainz had more pace than he showed in Q3.

The reigning Constructors champions were struggling with a few niggling issues, facing a more turbulent Saturday than expected.

Red Bull chooses a more loaded setup: Sacrificing top speed for downforce and race pace

Verstappenafter a less consistent than usual Fridayhad no trouble adjusting to a new aerodynamic configuration.

He switched to the setup Perez used, which is quite uncommon, fitting the rear wing and more charged Bahrain specification, in addition to Red Bull’s new wing front introduced this weekend.

This change slightly reduced the top speed of the RB19, but allows for improvements in overall traction and race pace.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull RB19 rear wings.
Comparison of the two specifications tested by Max Verstappen between Free Practice and the more charged choice adopted for Qualifying.

However, it was very much a tale of two very different qualifying at the Red Bull garage. Perez struggled throughout the day with a strange brake balance issue.

This issue is probably electronic in nature, given that it was not fixed after a series of interventions between free practice and qualifying.

Perez will start from last place, which will force him to drive aggressively tomorrow. It remains to be seen what countermeasures the Milton Keynes technicians will adopt, both in terms of reliability – if necessary in parc fermé – and strategically.

Qualifying showed that the 2023 cars in Melbourne seem to be more consistent with the simulation data. With no major sequences of fast corners, coupled with the rather smooth tarmac that helps manage rebound, the times again show performance up to 1 second faster than a year ago. 

This, despite calculating that the long additional DRS zone – between turns 8 and 9 – made the track 2 tenths faster, roughly compensating for the use of the C5 a year ago, a tire which – according to the Pirelli technicians – boasted 3 tenths better lap performance than the current C4 compound. 

The four DRS zones reduced porpoising, whilst temperatures widened the set-up window for Ferrari and Mercedes.

Ferrari and Mercedes – who were Verstappen’s closest challengers – were able to lower their ground clearance even closer and approach the level used by the RB19.

It is no coincidence that the problematic W14 suddenly entered a rather interesting tyre usage window, something that shouldn’t be totally surprising – since it happened previously last season.

Whilst qualifying was impressive for Mercedes, it will not change the plans of the team’s engineers, who have initiated profound changes to the package to update the aerodynamic design.

However, Russell and Hamilton – who drove with slightly different loads – didn’t hide that they enjoyed “feeling the car come to life” during the session.

Unlike Alonso and the two Ferraris, who didn’t improve enough at the end of qualifying, the English drivers improved by 4/5 tenths between Q2 and Q3, taking P2 and P3.

Two flattering starting positions that Andrew Shovlin said went “way beyond our expectations”. The more unloaded configuration supplied is also guaranteeing strong top speeds, similar to Ferrari, so the W14 can defend itself in the race.

Today’s data collection should be seen as an important step forward in understanding, especially in relation to Mercedes’ customer team Aston Martin.

According to Toto Wolff, the Silverstone-based team has become a realistic reference for this season to understand the progress made in Brackley.

Ferrari has not optimized its good potential; Carlos Sainz lost 3 tenths – and the front row – in turn 1

The SF-23 kept the latest specification floor from Saudi Arabia with both drivers, which confirmed that it could generate greater downforce without losing drag.

Ferrari’s engineers, after two very painful races, expected a step forward in Australia – but not this much. The SF-23 has taken a step in the right direction before a series of evolutionary steps.

Carlos Sainz vs Nico Hulkenberg

Sainz lost 3 tenths in turn 1 due to poor preparation by the team in the crucial phase of Q3.

Even Leclerc, forced into his final attempt without a warm-up, lost about a tenth and a half in turn 1.

The data shows that in that straight line, Ferrari lost 17 km/h to Red Bull, even losing 5 tenths to Hulkenberg’s impressive VF-23.

Nonetheless, we have seen that the SF-23 – in certain corners – was more consistent with the simulations and at least closer to its potential. It more or less kept bouncing under control, which was helped partly by the revamped Albert Park circuit mitigating the car’s current limitations.

The SF-23 does not like the prolonged roll and high temperatures that create a risk of thermal degradation, as seen in Bahrain, which causes overeating with the tires.

In any case, it suffers in the medium speed curves around 200 kmh, where it loses an average of 10 kmh from Red Bull.

The Maranello technicians think they have made some visible steps forward in terms of balance, but it will be tomorrow’s race that will have to prove it after a very opaque qualifying. 

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23.

The strategies suggested by Pirelli for the race 

The one-stop race strategy for the Australian Grand Prix is, ​​on paper, the fastest. From the simulations based on the data collected so far, the teams could opt for a start on the Mediums and a change to the hards between lap 17 and 23.

A slightly slower strategy would be to start on the Softs, with a stop between Laps 15 and 21 to finish the race again on the Hards.

Although slower than the one-stop race, a two-stop race is also possible, using all the compounds available in Melbourne: Softs at the start and then the Hards between laps 10 and 15 and finally Mediums between laps 38 and 45 and take to the checkered flag.

Unlike last year, even the softest choice of the range (C4, instead of the C5 introduced in 2022) is also part of the possible race strategies.


Author: Giuliano Duchess
Co-Author: Andrea Vergani

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang



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