The new generation of ground-impact machines have produced a number of surprises this year, and teams have sometimes found themselves far behind on race weekends where they expected to do much better.
But there was also another side to that as well, with teams sometimes finding that their performance far exceeds what they expected.
Ferrari has been chasing answers for exactly this situation this year, having struggled a lot recently at Spa-Francorchamps but been much stronger at Monza – although both tracks require low downforce and good flight efficiency.
Jock Claire, the team’s chief performance engineer, admits that even the best engineers on his team don’t have a complete explanation for why there is such a diverse performance.
“Honestly, if we really knew these things,” he said, “we would get the golden bullet.” “It’s really hard to sort out these things.
“You talk to the teams that find really good performances in the race, you talk to the teams that have fallen behind, and there is a real mystery to unravel all of that. That is why this job is not simple, and that is why it is so interesting to all of you. [the media] And we’re all comrades.”
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, leads at start
Photography: Alessio Morghese
Accepting that he couldn’t fully explain why Spa was so difficult and Monza was better, Claire says that as the teams gain more experience with the cars, they are beginning to open up a better understanding of what’s going on.
“Honestly, we don’t know all the answers, and we still don’t understand exactly what happened at the spa,” he said. “We’ve got some ideas, and obviously we’ve worked on them.
“We came to Monza, which is a similar low-power circuit as Spa, although different, and we feel like we understood some of what happened at Spa.
“It may turn out later in the year that we are discovering more things, but we are constantly learning.
“None of us know all the details, because it’s a relative sport, and all the time it’s a relative sport, and you don’t know what other people are doing, there are a lot of areas where you have to roughly guess your best.”
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, passes Carlos Sainz Jr. on the beach, Ferrari F1-75
Photography: Andy Hoon / motorsports pictures
Claire doesn’t think the new generation of ground-impact cars is particularly hard to understand, but he does think the fact that the rules are in their infancy means the teams have a long way to go before they can fully understand them.
“I think that’s just because they’re so new,” Claire added. “There will always be a steep learning curve with a new development or a new set of rules, and everyone is on that steep learning curve.
We saw that at the beginning of the year. He was saying a lot of people [to us]: “Why is your car so fast so early in the year?” It is a relative sport.
“Maybe we got to understand it a little bit better and some people were just figuring out where their cars are.
“That was the great thing about entering a year with a new slate. There is obviously an aspect of high performance in your package, but there is also an understanding of this car and an understanding of drivers for how to drive it.
“With Max Drivers [Verstappen] Quality, Charles [Leclerc] Quality, Carlos [Sainz] Quality, you would expect these guys to be spot on. They are human, they work to develop their talents every day, and they have improved during the year. Perhaps they understand more.
“It all comes together at different rates, at different times, and on different teams. When it’s a relative sport, you can’t know all the answers.”
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