After the first appointment for the Bahrain Grand Prix, we continue with our analysis of the current Formula 1 season with some thoughts originating from how things went in China won by Lewis Hamilton ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel.
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Ferrari is destroying Charles Leclerc’s season
I was already surprised by Mattia Binotto‘s statements before the season began, where he had already anticipated that Sebastian Vettel would be the first Ferrari driver. Wonderful because I consider Charles Leclerc a better driver than Sebastian Vettel, and it seems to me that he is demonstrating this on the track at the beginning of the season.
I am very happy with the rotation of Binotto towards Maurizio Arrivabene. He is surely more technically prepared and able to face an English-oriented world like Formula 1. But I still don’t see an improvement in Ferrari in the ability to evaluate the drivers and the race strategies.
It is not possible to give a team order if the pilot who suffers it loses a position from a driver of another team. It is not written anywhere, but it is a law that exists in Formula 1. And Ferrari has not respected it, because allowing Vettel to overcome Leclerc has compromised the latter’s position against Max Verstappen. Not only that, because the maneuver caused the Ferrari drivers to lose two or three seconds at a crucial moment in the race, where the gap to the Mercedes was not so clear. Charles was doing a great job to keep the gap, and he was succeeding. But having to slow down to put Vettel in the condition of not being subjected to the aerodynamic disturbance and overtake made him lose the pace.
And there are other problems. Leclerc is proving to be very critical of himself: as he did last year in Sauber, he does not forgive his mistakes and he wants to be perfect with a goal not so hidden, to be more prepared than Vettel in facing Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari seems to ignore this attitude of Leclerc and risks making the guy too frustrated in the upcoming races. For obvious reasons, he feels superior to Vettel and will continue to want to prove it.
Moreover, in the world of Formula 1, the feeling grows that Sebastian Vettel in his career has won too much over his real skills. And this could increase the antipathy towards the German driver, which I think are already quite high in this world.
The Mercedes is back faster than the Ferrari thanks to the best balance between straight and curves
Obviously, it is very difficult to understand why: also because the teams themselves are not sure. Surely it is a question of balancing downforce and power. Maintaining cornering grip is very important, but tire performance also plays a key role in this. The pilots had a lot of difficulty in aligning the temperature of the front tires with that of the front tires, which caused the instability of the cars in certain cases. In a circuit like the Chinese one where traction is very important in the restarts, it is equally easy to overheat the rear tires in a way that cannot be balanced with respect to what happens in the front. It is therefore in equilibrium to be reached between the state of the car on the front and the state of the car on the rear, while at the same time maintaining the balancing in the curve in terms of speed and preservation of the tires to avoid blistering and graining.
Ok, the slow curves but also the presence of a long straight line that affects and in the Chinese circuit we have a more than a kilometer and a half long straight line. The tires on such a long straight cool down considerably, and this seems to be much more punitive on Ferrari than on Mercedes or Red Bull. Probably from this point of view the extra power that Ferrari has obtained this season on its engine, as well as the trim, is counterproductive. The Mercedes has been more stable on curves and less performing on the straight for the whole weekend, and this eventually rewarded it.
In other words, Ferrari now appears more powerful but less balanced. Its rear wing is less powerful than that of Mercedes, and therefore the car performs best only on those circuits that are congenial to it like Bahrain and Barcelona. This probably depends on the fact that Ferrari has been more aggressive about the changes this year than Mercedes, and needs more time to be tuned up. It can improve, provided its problems with the pilots are solved.
Another thing to study from the Chinese Grand Prix concerns the effectiveness of the DRS in the long straight on this circuit. The DRS seemed less effective than was the case in Bahrain, for reasons that are difficult to identify. Even less effective on Ferraris, despite they favored speed on the forehand, probably due to the mechanical imbalance on the car that we talked about earlier.
The two top teams are very close to each other and on the race pace, Red Bull also reached those levels but not yet enough, and in these conditions, he will not be able to fight for the title despite a more mature Verstappen than the previous seasons. Encouraging progress is also shown by Renault, with a good seventh place with Daniel Ricciardo, although it is very difficult to predict how long it will take the French team to fill the gap. Mercedes and Ferrari, however, show greater efficiency in qualifying, where the respective power units appear more powerful than the others, and it is precisely in these phases that make the difference, while the race becomes a question of management.
Formula 1 is increasingly a question of management, not only with regards to the tires but also the status of the battery and other aspects of the car. Shanghai is one of the most efficient circuits and close to the maximum amount of energy will be stored in the battery per lap. This will allow drivers to optimize the amount of energy transferred directly from the H to the K or to the battery. Race fuel saving is low, Shanghai being one of the easiest tracks of the year in this respect.
In addition, the Federation had drawn attention to the side strip of the front wing of the Mercedes cars in the approach to the Chinese Grand Prix, specifying that they should not have exposed cutting surfaces in order to avoid puncturing the tires of other single-seaters. Red Bull and Williams have adapted to the legislation in view of Shanghai, while Mercedes has not been found adherent to the FIA’s requests, and has been forced to change the solution brought for the Grand Prix.
The engineers of the Silver Arrows, in fact, mounted a new wing on the W10, inspired by the philosophy of the outwash, which had the sideband cut off. In this way, a small but sharp surface of the flap of the front wing was discovered and is immediately finished in the viewfinder of the men of the Federation. Challenging the directive spread to the teams during this week, the FIA asked Mercedes to return to the old configuration, then used for FP1 and FP2.
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Simulations and computer games make young drivers better than experts
Until a few years ago we were used to seeing a phase of break-in for the youngest riders, who only, in the long run, equaled the performance of the most experienced. Today it is no longer the case, and you understand it not only from the lap times but also from the psychological attitude of these guys. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen are immediately determined to undermine the more experienced colleagues: they give the feeling of being impatient to prove it and indeed that someone is taking something away from them.
Why are they so good? Computer video games, which are so refined that they are real simulations, certainly play a very important role. First of all, they are always available, going to solve an age-old problem of motorsport, linked to the chance to compete on the track. First, it took a lot of money to prepare properly and the top level motorsport was reserved only for those who had large financial resources thanks to the family. These simulations are reversing a situation of this kind, indeed the opposite is true. Being able to try at home at any time improves the sensitivity of young drivers, trains their reflexes and strengthens their concentration. Yes, because these “games” perfectly reproduce the behavior of the cars, whether they are Formula 1, Gran Turismo or other, both in terms of tire physics and handling the car in acceleration, braking, and track holding. Their driving model is in fact accurately modeled on the basis of data provided by the motorsport stables and reproduced by software within the actual virtual races. Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, and many other drivers make no secret of being professionally raised this way.
Like many things in modern society, even Formula 1 is changing fast. If at the time of Michael Schumacher it was easy to soar over the other drivers, because Schumacher dedicated his life to motorsport while the others didn’t, now everything is more difficult. Schumacher was the first man to think Formula 1 as the most important focus in his life. Not only, after Schumacher, the Formula 1 drivers dedicate 24 hours a day to motorsport, but some of them have been raised since childhood with the aim of becoming a perfect driver. If you add to this recipe the fact that you can always train at any time, then the mix is explosive.
A mention deserves Alexander Albon, who from the last place, after crashing in FP3, got an excellent tenth place, winning a point for the world rankings and defending himself strenuously from the Haas in the final phase of the race. He too is obviously part of the group of young rampant pilots. Now Albon undermines Gasly’s position in Red Bull, which is still too slow compared to Max Verstappen even though the reasons for this difference are not clear.
2019 F1 Driver Standings
1 Lewis Hamilton GBR MERCEDES 68
2 Valtteri Bottas FIN MERCEDES 62
3 Max Verstappen NED RED BULL RACING HONDA 39
4 Sebastian Vettel GER FERRARI 37
5 Charles Leclerc MON FERRARI 36
6 Pierre Gasly FRA RED BULL RACING HONDA 13
7 Kimi Räikkönen FIN ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI 12
8 Lando Norris GBR MCLAREN RENAULT 8
9 Kevin Magnussen DEN HAAS FERRARI 8
10 Nico Hulkenberg GER RENAULT 6
11 Daniel Ricciardo AUS RENAULT 6
12 Sergio Perez MEX RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 5
13 Alexander Albon THA SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 3
14 Lance Stroll CAN RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 2
15 Daniil Kvyat RUS SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 1
16 Antonio Giovinazzi ITA ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI 0
17 Romain Grosjean FRA HAAS FERRARI 0
18 Carlos Sainz ESP MCLAREN RENAULT 0
19 George Russell GBR WILLIAMS MERCEDES 0
20 Robert Kubica POL WILLIAMS MERCEDES 0
2019 F1 Constructor Standings
1 MERCEDES 130
2 FERRARI 73
3 RED BULL RACING HONDA 52
4 RENAULT 12
5 ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI 12
6 HAAS FERRARI 8
7 MCLAREN RENAULT 8
8 RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 7
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 4
10 WILLIAMS MERCEDES 0