June 6, 2023

4th DRS zone helped reduce porpoising, temperatures widen set-up window for Ferrari


Max Verstappen secured an apparently easy pole position for the 2023 Formula One Australian Grand Prix on Saturday by clearly lowering his best time in Q3 under 1.17″ and fending off a surprising final attack by two Mercedes cars while also keeping the two Aston Martins and the Ferrari SF-23 cars at a distance.

The Spanish Maranello driver, above all, did in fact have the potential to be closer to Max Verstappen’s RB19, especially given that the world champion team battled with some slight unknowns, facing a more difficult Saturday than expected.

Red Bull chooses the more loaded setup: giving up a few km/h on the straights, improving traction and aiming for advantages in the race.
Max Verstappen, after a less consistent Friday than usual, had no trouble adjusting his aerodynamic compromise to Sergio Perez’s setup, something not often seen, fitting both the rear wing in Bahrain’s most charged specification and the new wing front introduced this weekend. The difference on the straight between the two settings slightly lowered the supremacy of the RB19 by about 5 km/h, all to the advantage of traction and race pace.

However, if Max Verstappen can be happy, it is the Mexican who is disappointed, in a two-faced qualifying for the reigning champion team. Checo struggled all day with a strange brake balance issue. Probably of an electronic nature, not solved after some interventions between free practice and qualifying.

The Mexican will start from the last position and is called to an aggressive race, we will see what countermeasures the Milton Keynes technicians will adopt, both in terms of reliability – if necessary in parc fermé – and strategies.

Qualifying showed that the 2023 cars in Melbourne seem to have found more consistency with the simulations. Without important sequences of fast corners, combined with the rather smooth asphalt that helps manage the bouncing, the times again show performance even 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 fourth DRS zone helped limit porpoising, the temperatures widened the set-up window for Ferrari and above all Mercedes.
Ferrari and Mercedes – who were Verstappen’s first challengers – were able to lower the ride heights even more, approaching those used by the RB19, increasing the % load from the floor less disturbed by turbulence. It is no coincidence that the problematic W14 has suddenly entered a rather interesting tire usage window, something that shouldn’t be totally surprising since it already happened last season. At the same time, it is a positive sign that it will not lead to changes in the plans of the engineers who have initiated profound changes to the package to update the aerodynamic design.

However George Russell and Lewis Hamilton – who drove with slightly different loads – did not hide that they enjoyed “feeling the car come to life” during the session. Unlike Fernando Alonso and the two Ferrari cars who didn’t improve at the crucial moment, the Mercedes drivers gained 4/5 tenths between Q2 and Q3, taking P2 and P3. Flattering positions that Andrew Shovlin defined as having gone “far beyond our expectations”.

The more unloaded configuration supplied is also guaranteeing interesting speeds, similar to Ferrari, to defend itself in the race. Today’s data collection should be seen as an important step forward in understanding, especially in relation to the customer team Aston Martin, which has become – according to Toto Wolff – the realistic reference of the 2023 Formula One championship, to understand the progress made by Mercedes.

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