September 25, 2023

Performance Analysis: Ferrari manages tires, Mercedes disrupts plans


The historic Ferrari team fulfills a dream for its fans. It’s all thanks to Carlos Sainz, who had a perfect weekend. “Perfect” is the most fitting word for the Spaniard. It’s remarkable considering his past, where he often approached perfection only to make an error at the last moment. On the other side of the garage, Charles Leclerc had a slightly lackluster weekend, and he was also unlucky in the race, with a delayed pit stop that tremendously complicated his race.

Taking a broader view of the race, Norris deserves many compliments. The British talent managed to fend off attacks from both Mercedes cars with a strategy that could have been victorious. In this regard, the “assistance” from his former teammate Carlos was crucial. Russell, on the other hand, squandered a potential victory, while Lewis, in the end, secured another podium in his career.

Today’s analysis of the Singapore GP revolves around tire management. The shared choice for the top ten was the yellow-banded Pirelli tires. All, including Charles, who agreed with the pit wall, opted for the Soft compound. The goal was to take advantage of the increased grip at the start to get ahead of Russell, which they successfully did. In the Red Bull camp, they decided to go directly for the Hard tires to extend the first stint as much as possible. This tactic, given that Safety Cars are common at Marina Bay, aimed to try the overcut on their opponents.

Charles Leclerc had to extend his stint further to reduce the difference in tire life compared to others. The window for the tire change was around the 25th lap for the Medium compound. On lap 20, Bernd Mayländer’s services were required to allow the stewards to clean the track from debris from Sargeant’s Williams. This context, in fact, triggered pit stops for many.

Despite this situation favoring the Monegasque driver, pit lane traffic played a decisive role in causing him to lose positions. Under Safety Car conditions, the two RB19 cars chose to stay out on the Hard tires. However, when the race resumed, their pace wasn’t as expected. The Austrian cars struggled, and in a few laps, they lost the advantage they had gained by not pitting.

After the first stint, it’s noticed that the lap times, in general, were quite high. This is evident from the subsequent graph, which confirms that the drivers were conserving their tires. Overall, the front-runners’ race pace was within two-tenths of a second of each other. The first Red Bull to pit was Perez on lap 40, after being overtaken by the lead group. The Mexican driver chose the Medium tire to go all the way. Max followed suit on the next lap.

Ferrari showed a good pace on the white-banded Pirelli tires, especially with Sainz. Meanwhile, Leclerc suffered a slight increase in temperatures, forcing him to limit his performance somewhat. The Virtual Safety Car caused by Ocon provided the opportunity for drivers to bring their tire temperatures back into the optimal range. Surprisingly, at this point, Mercedes decided to make a bold tactical move: to pit both cars for new Medium tires.

It was a risky choice, as on this type of city circuit, it’s usually imperative to maintain track position. Interestingly, they did it with both drivers, indicating their extreme confidence in the strategy. When Charles Leclerc was informed of the double stop for the W14 cars, he considered this strategy correct, as it theoretically could have sacrificed a podium for a chance to win the race.

This scenario put a lot of pressure on the Scuderia. The Ferrari team received a radio order to push to the maximum until the end. The two Mercedes cars easily closed the gap on Charles and, once they colored his mirrors black, they effortlessly passed him to reach the leading duo of Sainz and Norris. Carlos remained calm and, of his own accord, decided to let his former McLaren teammate get closer, always providing him with the DRS.

Carlos’s reasoning was clear: if Lando could use the DRS, he would be better equipped to defend, and the Mercedes cars wouldn’t be able to pass. It was a good strategy but equally risky, especially considering that his front tires were practically done, causing a slight understeer that limited the Ferrari’s front-end grip.

The graph above clearly shows the difference in pace between the Mercedes cars after their second pit stop. The only car with similar lap times was Max Verstappen’s RB19. In the race, the Red Bulls made progress compared to qualifying, as we have often seen in the previous fourteen races.

However, starting from outside the top ten, the two blue racing cars couldn’t do much. Simultaneously, Mercedes’ strategy proved correct, especially since a similar strategy from Carlos Sainz or Lando Norris wasn’t predictable based on simulations. Below, you can see another table concerning the forces at play. An interesting point to note is that some rather “unexpected” results emerge.

The RB19 was, nevertheless, the fastest car on the track. Yes, it may seem strange, but this has a very specific meaning. The front group, as has often happened in past editions of this Grand Prix, didn’t push too hard to make the single pit stop strategy work. Since overtaking is very difficult at the Marina Bay street circuit, the leaders raised their lap times to avoid wearing out the tires too quickly and extend their useful life. Red Bull was indeed the quickest during the race, but only because they had to push from the first lap.

Ferrari and Mercedes managed the race almost all the time, except for the final laps when the two all-black cars opted for an additional pit stop. With the same tire compound, SF-23, W14, and MCL60 had very similar levels of performance. Probably their technicians didn’t expect significantly superior performance from the Medium tires, especially considering that the drivers had managed and cared for the wear of the Hard tires.

Source: Alessandro Arcari and Niccoló Arnerich for FUnoanalisitecnica

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