Ross Brawn says Ferrari’s performance looked “horrific” in the Belgian Grand Prix. Not too many people would disagree. The reason for such a bad weekend for Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel is, no surprise to anybody, their engine power deficit. I saw data over the weekend that showed Vettel was 1.6 seconds slower on the straights on his qualifying lap this year vs 2019. And he set an almost identical lap time. That doesn’t mean the Ferrari engine is 1.6s slower on the straights – just that the car is. If you think back to late last year when there was all sorts of controversy around Ferrari’s straightline speed advantage in qualifying, the estimates of how much it was gaining vs Mercedes and Honda ranged from 0.6s to a second.
So, where’s the rest come from? Well, that’s because the team’s got other problem.
Having a weaker engine this season meant Ferrari had to adopt an extreme low-drag solution for Spa to avoid being a sitting duck in sectors one and two. That showed on Friday, when Vettel and Leclerc were very competitive in the fast parts of the lap. But they were really, really slow in sector two. It seems that the Ferrari, at least with minimal downforce, was having a nightmare trying to get the tyres to work. Brawn, Ferrari’s ex-technical boss and now F1’s sporting director, suggested as much.
“I’ve been in a situation like Ferrari have found themselves in at Spa, where you don’t get tyres to work, the temperature doesn’t come and the drop off in performance is dramatic,” he said.
“Regardless of what people say about the deficit they may have with the engine following the technical clarifications, you don’t lose 1.3s per lap from one year to next in that metric alone.
“They just couldn’t get the tyres in the zone The fact it was colder at Spa, would not have helped either.
“When that happens, the performance drops off and looks horrific.”
Ferrari’s solution appeared to be to add more wing for qualifying and the race. This theory is supported by the gain made in the middle sector, but the cars being slightly slower in sectors one and two. So Ferrari’s underpowered engine meant the team was in a Catch-22 situation at Spa: it was too slow in a straight line to run much downforce, but taking off the downforce seemed to leave it utterly helpless through the corners.
Compare it to Renault and AlphaTauri, which also ran very low-downforce set-ups at Spa, and you get an idea of what a low-drag set-up is actually capable of. While Renault had the best result since getting back on the grid in 2016 (fourth, fifth and fastest lap) Ferrari was nowhere near even scoring a point.
Brawn claims that if Ferrari can get the tyres “working properly again, I think the performance will snap back in”.
“They still won’t look race-winning,” he said. “But it will become more respectable.”
If Brawn thinks that’s possible, maybe it is. He knows more than me. Perhaps it’s something rooted in the preparation of the tyres on the outlap, perhaps there was a problem within the car’s mechanical set-up that meant without more downforce the drivers weren’t able to get the tyres into the right working window.
Whether that can be fixed for Monza is the big question. Everyone will adopt a low-drag set-up there, and if Ferrari’s the odd-one-out then it will seriously struggle. But there’s a chance Spa was just a perfect storm and the bulk of its car problem was circuit-specific, because Monza has a shorter infield section that will punish a car less if it is struggling to work the tyres.
Vettel warned not to expect “miracles”, but at the very least Ferrari needs to move back into top-10 contention. Ferrari’s struggled to get two cars into the final part of qualifying at a few races now, and that shows how bad its season has been.
But a double-elimination early on at Monza would be particularly tough. It might make the team grateful the Tifosi can’t be there to see it.