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Why was Ferrari so weak? Truth About Mercedes Victory

Why was Ferrari so weak?
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In the first reflex one is inclined to say: Mercedes only bluffed in the winter tests and made us all believe they had a problem. That can be ruled out with certainty. I can still remember the faces of the engineers after the briefing at the end of the first day of testing. It lasted until 8:15 p.m. Even team boss Toto Wolff was there until the end. There was a certain perplexity in their faces. The expressions did not relax when a week later a retreaded Mercedes W10 entered the race. Ferrari drove fast laps with ease. Mercedes struggled with midfield. Some of the team already said it openly. Maybe you need to think about the concept of the front wing.

Lewis Hamilton is a bad actor. Frustration is expressed in speechlessness. He then speaks so softly that you can hardly hear anything. And the world champion was abrupt when he gave his press conference during the lunch break on the last day of testing. He spoke of half a second behind Ferrari, of the greatest challenge of the last six years and of his trust in this team, which will find an answer to every problem. One or two tenths could still be caught up with a better understanding, but the defending champion grumbled it was a long time ago that it was so behind. That wasn't an act. That was real.

Mercedes refuel

Then Hamilton got into the car one last time in these eight days from Barcelona. Mercedes filled up the tank and provided the very soft tire compounds. When did that happen in the last few years? You didn't even touch the soft Pirelli rubbers or you didn't even order them, and refueling, no, that was something for the others who don't know exactly where they are. The fact that Mercedes took exactly this measure shows how insecure they were.

But in these last four hours of the winter tests, the engineers saw a light. Finally, what belonged together came together.Finally, a set-up was found that at least enabled Hamilton to achieve Sebastian Vettel's fastest time to within three thousandths of a second. In retrospect, Toto Wolff admits: “That was the moment when we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. That's when we began to understand our car. ”Nevertheless, there were still doubts. Chief engineer Andrew Shovlin admits that the most optimistic evaluation of the data believed that they were on par with Ferrari. “Under the worst assumption, we were six tenths behind.”

The fact that in Melbourne they converted the worst-case-expected deficit into an even greater lead came out of the blue for Mercedes as well. “We surprised ourselves,” admitted Hamilton after taking his sixth straight pole position at Albert Park. And in the Mercedes camp they really only wanted to believe in the miracle when it was confirmed on Sunday. Not only was Ferrari slow, the red cars also destroyed their tires. No other car deteriorated so badly at the end of the long run.

The three faces of Ferrari

That begs the question: Was Mercedes so strong or Ferrari so weak? At least this question is answered quickly. Ferrari has sold below value. “If we use the test results as a basis, then all the distances between us and the other teams fit into the picture. Red Bull may still have been a question mark, but we expected them to be about as much as they were in Melbourne. The only team that went completely out of line was Ferrari. Compared to us, but also compared to everyone else, ”the Mercedes engineers put into perspective. Their conclusion: 'Ferrari must have had a problem with his car.'

That is consistent with what Ferrari said. Team boss Mattia Binotto insisted: “We haven't implemented the potential of our car.” Vettel confirmed: “We know that our car is better than what we saw in Melbourne. In Barcelona everything was perfect from day one. In Melbourne I never found confidence in my car. It no longer did what I wanted from him. ”

When asked what had gone wrong, Ferrari could not or would not provide an explanation. Binotto said only this much: “We never found the right balance on the three days. We lacked grip, and that meant we had problems with the tires. ”Vettel recognized small bright spots here and there, but on the whole the speed was simply lacking. The perplexity was also expressed in the fact that the Ferrari showed three faces in the race. Neat on the soft C4 compound, pathetic on the middle C3 rubber, amazingly strong on the hard C2 tires. If everything were bad, Charles Leclerc would not have been so upset in the end.

Problems spread across the lap

When analyzing what could have gone wrong at Ferrari, you have to rely on GPS measurements and to fall back on section times, andtry to read from them why the time has fallen short. During training, Ferrari lost three tenths in sectors 1 and 2 and the last tenth in the six corners of the final section. Achilles heel were the slow corners, specifically T1, T3, T4 and T13. As these curves are distributed over three sectors, the Mercedes engineers believe that this rules out incorrect use of the tires. “Then Ferrari would have lost most of the time in the first sector or in the final section. But the problems spread across the group. So they must generally have had too little grip. ”

At the four speed measuring points on the straights, Ferrari lost minimal time during training: 2.3 km /h at top speed, 0.9 km /h in S1, 0.1 km /h in S2. On the finish line, Leclerc was even stopped 0.8 km /h faster than the Silver Arrows. It is noticeable, however, that Vettel was slower than Leclerc at all measuring points. At an average of 2.4 km /h. In the race, the speed deficit increased dramatically. Vettel missed the four measuring points between 5.7 and 10.2 km /h on winner Vatteri Bottas. Ferrari's number one almost never made it into the DRS area, but Bottas also drove around pretty lonely at the top. Here we have to follow up. Did Ferrari have a problem with the drive or did they turn back out of caution?

The third sector of Barcelona?

You shouldn't overestimate the influence of top speeds on the lap time. What matters is what happens in the corners. And here we come back to the subject of slow corners. The words of Valtteri Bottas during the test drives still ring in our ears at a time when Mercedes was still poking around in the fog. “The car has clearly gotten better in slow corners. On the other hand, we still feel an instability in the rear in the fast corners. ”Since Barcelona mainly consists of long and fast corners, this deficit was disproportionately significant there. If Mercedes now says that they had the light on the last day of the test, then it is very likely that it concerns the problem in the fast corners. That was apparently done by changing the aero balance.

Flashback to Barcelona. The comparison of the fastest laps by Vettel and Hamilton reveals an interesting detail that could give an indication of why Ferrari was worse than expected in Melbourne. And that it might not just have to do with the vote, as Ferrari wants to tell us. Let us briefly recall Barcelona. The first sector consists of three fast corners. The second of two slow, one medium, one fast corners and one straight. The third of five slow corners, one medium-fast and one fast. And now the two top laps in the sector comparison:

Do you notice anything? Hamilton took three tenths off the Ferrari in the third sector, whose corners most closely resemble those in Melbournefrom. So already in Barcelona, ​​where the Ferrari was still in shape. That's a lot of wood and suggests that even a well-tuned Ferrari has a problem in this area. Ferrari made up for lost time in the first two sectors, where the corners are mostly fast and have long radii.

There are no such sectors in Melbourne. The last 31 seconds of the lap can best be compared to Barcelona, ​​and that's where Ferrari lost the least time on Mercedes. Incidentally, the Mercedes and the Ferrari in Barcelona were absolutely identical in terms of top speed and the speed measurement on the finish line. Which suggests that the ratio of power to air resistance is relatively identical.

Suspension travel and aerodynamics

In Melbourne, it is mainly the slow corners that count. Seven of the 16 curves are below 160 km /h. With that, Mercedes was already well positioned. If, thanks to the homework between the test drives and the first race in the fast corners, the Silver Arrows have lost nothing on Ferrari, and Ferrari, in turn, was unable to solve its problem in the slow corners, a decent lead is quickly established.

Perhaps Ferrari knew of its weakness and, while trying to hide it, got bogged down with the vote. Perhaps Ferrari could have learned something from Red Bull, who also went round in circles with the vote, but jumped on the right train at the last minute. First, the chassis was trimmed hard and harder and the lap times got slower and slower. Red Bull was only able to free itself from the trap when they went softer again.

Ferrari must be concerned that there are more slow corners than fast corners in Bahrain. That mechanical grip is as important as good aerodynamics. In the first reflex one would say that Ferrari should simply allow more suspension travel. But it's not always that easy. Perhaps the SF90's aerodynamic platform only works in a small window of clearance. That would be a serious problem because it is not easy to solve. Because of its front wing concept, Ferrari has to do a lot of work in order to use a deep wing to regain the downforce that is normally lost with this arrangement of the front wing flaps.

Mercedes' doubts about Ferrari's front wing philosophy, From the beginning, Alfa-Sauber, Toro Rosso, McLaren and Haas revolved around the question of how to get back the contact pressure on the front axle. Sky expert Martin Brundle reported from the track that the Ferrari showed too much understeer in the slow corners. In an effort to stop this, the engineers may have overshot the mark. The rear has been made weaker, but with worse traction and higherTire wear paid for.

The Mercedes engineers still believe in a one-off slip and attach it to the unusually heavy tire wear on the Ferrari. “In Barcelona, ​​Ferrari, we and Haas were on roughly the same level. In Melbourne the Ferrari was a different car. This is shown by the recordings from the on-board camera. The thing that was still driving on rails in Barcelona suddenly became unstable in Melbourne. The only difference was the route characteristics, the temperatures and the wind. ”


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