F1 / Santerno al lotto – Carlo Platella

The enthusiasm for the arrival of Formula 1 on the banks of the Santerno goes beyond simple affection for one of the most popular tracks in Italy. Indeed, the Enzo e Dino Ferrari racetrack embodies the track prototype old school, boasting the main qualities that have helped make motor sports popular around the world. The strip of asphalt, perennially bordered by grass and gravel little inclined to forgive mistakes, follows the course of the Romagna hills, thus offering a wide variety of geometries in all three directions. The Variants alternate with fast curves such as the Piratella or hairpin bends such as the Tosa, interspersed with gradients of over 30 meters which require careful modulation of both the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal. Despite the abundance of curves, with a total of 19 folds in the official numbering, Imola is anything but a maximum load track, imposing on the contrary compromise choices on the set-up between cornering and speed in extension. With the previous generation of cars, the average lap times in qualifying were just under 240 km / h, with the speed thus adding to the many fascinating elements of the Imola track.

Against any superstitious ritual of the supporters of the Red, the scenario after the first three races of the season can only be seen Ferrari in the role of favorite on the eve of the Romagna stage. However, it is not taken for granted that the same supremacy seen at Albert Park can take place at Santerno, since, net of Max Verstappen’s retirement, Red Bull struggled to find the optimal balance on Australian soil. In a calendar that has 23 appointments, it is typical that in some events there may be performance differences amplified by the different affinity of the cars to the track or by suboptimal set-up choices, as evidenced for example by the races in Monaco, Austria and Mexico. last season in the direct match between Mercedes and Red Bull. At the start of the championship, however, we saw how the Maranello and Milton Keynes teams were extremely close in terms of pure performance, especially in Bahrain and Jeddah, a balance that could recur precisely in Imola. The Romagna track is in any case more suited to the characteristics of the F1-75 than it is to those of the RB18. In fact, a medium downforce configuration is required, with Ferrari having already shown that it prefers set-up choices with a more generous rear wing than that used by Red Bull, a trend due to the overall balance of the car and the abundance of horsepower in the car. power unit from Maranello, capable of counteracting the increased resistance to running.

The Anglo-Austrian team, on the other hand, has among its main strengths a high top speed at the end of the straight, the result of the aerodynamic efficiency of the car body and the excellent energy management of the ex-Honda hybrid. However, the high average speeds of Imola do not derive from long and numerous straights, but from cornering distances that always remain above 100 km / h at any point on the track. Even more than the speed tips, therefore, fundamental qualities such as torque and power delivery in traction and in the first extension phase are revealed, areas where the Ferrari propulsion unit expresses its best potential. The F1-75 is also particularly keen on curves rear limited such as the Tosa or the double of the Rivazza, but also in the more limiting sections of the front end such as the Piratella Red Bull could go slightly out of breath, having indicated a lack of load at the front. Overall, the compromise between cornering and lengthening and the complicated search for mechanical-aerodynamic balance between the different types of curves once again place the Red in a position of theoretical advantage over the competition, unless there are sudden jumps in performance given by any updates.

Nonetheless, there will be several variables in Emilia-Romagna potentially capable of subverting the initial forecasts. First of all, among the tracks visited so far Imola is the most severe from the point of view of the curbs. The transition to the Variante Alta greatly influences the overall lap time, where an aggressive cut of the chicane is required and therefore a car capable of digesting the imposing internal curbs. To do this, however, it will be necessary to reduce the rigidity of the suspension unit adjustments, an extremely deleterious operation as it destabilizes the aerodynamic platform in different driving conditions, sacrificing part of the load generated by the underbody and making the car more prone to the phenomenon of porpoising. Being able to cut the Variante Alta without excessively sacrificing aerodynamic performance will be one of the keys to the fight for victory at Imola.

The second big variable of the Romagna appointment is the rain expected for the weekend. Regardless of whether the sessions will actually be hit by showers or not, the risk of precipitation alone is sufficient to influence the work of the teams. First of all, it is likely that temperatures will drop, complicating tire temperatures, a gap that cost Max Verstappen a perfectly within reach pole position in 2021. In the first two races of 2022, it was Red Bull that suffered from the lack of grip at the front in qualifying, while in Melbourne the scenario was reversed, with Ferrari forced to do two laps of tire preparation. This aspect is accompanied by the choice of the level of aerodynamic load, higher if you decide to bet on rain in the race or lower if the team is convinced of a dry weekend. However, given the fallibility of weather forecasts, decisions on this front turn out to be almost bets.
Finally, there is the variable of the only free practice session scheduled, which in 2021 proved to be the most influential factor of the format with the Sprint Race. It is therefore impossible to verify any set-up corrections on the track after FP1A limitation that could be accused more by Red Bull and Mercedes than Ferrari, since both teams complain about a car that is excessively sensitive to set-up changes.

The intermediate range of tires will be available at Imola Pirelli, namely C2, C3 and C4. The minimum static inflation pressures are confirmed as those of Melbourne, with 24.5 psi at the front and 21.5 psi at the rear, the highest values ​​since the beginning of the season. On the brakes front, on the other hand, the technicians Brembo classify the Romagna track with a severity of 3 out of 5 for the braking system. Overall use of the brakes is recorded in around 11 seconds, equal to 15% of the time, with a more demanding management of the components overheating than at Albert Park, acting as an exam for teams that, like McLaren , Red Bull and Alfa Romeo, at the beginning of the championship suffered the most with the temperatures. Thanks to the cornering distances always above 100 km / h, however, in none of the ten braking sections there are decelerations higher than 170 km / h. Although the maximum speeds are reached on approach to the Variante del Tamburello, the most demanding braking is the one that precedes the first of the Rivazza. According to simulations provided by Brembo, the single-seaters decelerate from around 300 to 135 km / h in the space of 92 meters, with a peak deceleration of 4.7 g.

There will therefore be variables on the banks of the Santerno, outlining a weekend that, thanks to the Sprint Race format, opens up to different possible scenarios. Regardless of the verdict of the checkered flag, the Imola event nevertheless stands as a celebration for the whole world of Italian and international motoring, with Formula 1 re-embracing the warmth of the public of one of its historic tracks, in a current context in which the Circus is on the constant hunt for new destinations.

FP | Carlo Platella

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