Monza, Italy – While the results from the Italian Grand Prix might not have given Ferrari the top spot they desired, the team’s third and fourth-place finishes highlight a marked improvement, in contrast to their performance on majority of this year’s racing circuits.
At the Dutch Grand Prix, which happened just a week before the Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc condemned his car’s performance, calling it a new low point. He withdrew from the competition due to damage from a crash during qualifying and a subsequent collision in the race with Oscar Piastri‘s McLaren.
This year, Ferrari‘s inconsistent performance has been a notable issue but the team feels they are starting to understand the reasons. Simple analysis suggests that when Marvel is deploying maximum downforce, the car responds with unwelcome and erratic handling characteristics. This very issue caused Leclerc’s sub-par performance at Zandvoort.
But, things turned around at the Italian Grand Prix. With reduced downforce and a fresh motor, Ferrari suddenly became a formidable contender to Max Verstappen’s seemingly unrivaled Red Bull in the qualifications. So, what’s the explanation behind this upturn in Ferrari’s season, and was the progression at Monza a sign of ongoing breakthrough?
Jock Clear, Senior Performance Engineer at Ferrari, gives his views ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. “The evidence clearly shows that as we decrease the downforce on the car, its competitiveness increases,” says Clear. He continues, “We learned from old races that this car can compete on any part of the track under certain conditions. This was evident in Austria and Spa where we were not just surviving the corners or clinging on the straights, we were competitive throughout.”
Turning his gaze to the Monza qualifying, Clear pointed, “We were holding our own in corners where we generally struggle, like Turn 11 [Parabolica], hence the car feels different here.”. He added, “We understand much of that but won’t divulge the details.”
Despite Jock Clear’s silence on the team’s secrets, it was clear to onlookers at the Italian Grand Prix that Ferrari had gone to great lengths in an attempt to score big, especially considering the visible upgrades present on their SF23 car during the weekend.
Deploying a one-time paint scheme inspired by Ferrari’s Le Mans winning 499P, the team had, for the Italian Grand Prix, introduced one of the most extensive upgrades seen in any car this season. Some of these enhancements include new front and rear wings uniquely designed to maximize SF23’s performance along with new power units for both cars.
In response to an inquiry about the sentimental reason behind Ferrari‘s extensive preparations for Monza, given that the low-downforce configuration would not be reused at any other race track this season, Clear replied, “Have you noticed the abundant red in the crowd? You can deduce the rest.” He pointed out, “We understood since the start of the season that lower downforce suits us better. It’d be foolish not to act on this realization, not just from a sentimental viewpoint or because the crowd is engulfed in red, but because Monza is a racetrack that’s beneficial for us.”
Even though the custom package, exclusively designed for Monza, wouldn’t see any further use this season, Clear thinks Ferrari learned valuable lessons from the past two race weekends. He believes these lessons can be applied in the future rounds, including the upcoming Singaporean race.
“One of the things you gain here [at Monza] is a solid understanding of your mechanical balance, and our kerb riding has improved since we practiced before the event,” said Clear. He further clarified, “We know this animal [SF23] quite well now, so there will be certain races towards the end of the year where we believe we’ll be much more competitive. Especially in races where we won’t have to run maximum downforce.”
In preparation for tackling high downforce circuits, Ferrari is planning significant modifications to its car for next year. Jock Clear credits these developments to the Monza performance and is confident that this enhanced understanding of their car will be advantageous in the long run.
“The most encouraging thing for next year, for any year, is knowing what you’re doing,” explained Clear. “Early this season, we encountered anomalies, certain spots where we didn’t understand why we were so slow in some corners. But at Monza, where the car performed exactly how we expected it to, we found affirmation for our design team and aero department that we know what we’re doing, and our projections for next year are realistic.”