F1 / The weight of lightness – Carlo Platella

Red Bull dominates at Ferrari, taking pole, fastest lap and victory in both races on a track that on paper was thought to be better suited to the characteristics of F1-75. Milton Keynes’ team thus reduces the gap from the Reds in both world rankings, mitigating the impact of the triple retirement for reliability between Bahrain and Melbourne. Faced with the technical situation that emerged at Imola, it would have been important for the Maranello team to minimize the loss of points, taking note of the superiority of the RB18s over the Imola weekend. At first, however, an innocent Sainz was spun at the Tamburello, while Leclerc paid an overly aggressive cut at the Variante Alta in an attempt to retake Perez’s Red Bull. The regret for the Monegasque is even greater since Charles was the first to be aware of the need not to run a similar risk: “I think the most important thing for us is not to want to overdo it, an easy risk when there is excitement and things are going well “, he had declared on Thursday. The difference in terms of points between the sixth final place and the third place Leclerc was in before the mistake is, however, only seven points, a loss that is not dramatic from the point of view of the fight for the title.

On the shores of the Santerno Red Bull was the fastest in all conditions: from qualifying in the wet to the Sprint Race won with excellent graining management, finally arriving at the race with mixed conditions where the RB18 expressed a pace consistently faster than a few tenth compared to Ferrari. The Anglo-Austrian car proved to be at ease on a particularly technical and varied track, with no particular performance discrepancies between the different conditions in which it raced over the weekend. This contrasts with the performance in Melbourne, where Milton Keynes’s team had been struggling with balance problems. However, it is impossible to establish what the balance of power would have been at Imola in a weekend without a Sprint Race, if both Ferrari and Red Bull had had more time available to optimize the mechanical-aerodynamic set-up. It would have been equally interesting to see a dry race, which with medium and hard compounds would hardly have generated the graining phenomena that Ferrari suffered with the softer tires in the sprint race on Saturday. The meteorological evolution and the anomalous format of the Sprint Race, however, are among the variables of the game, managed in this circumstance in an excellent way by Red Bull, but their influence testifies to how much the individual surrounding conditions can contribute to the alternating supremacy between the two. cars.

Ferrari and Red Bull are in fact confirmed to be extremely balanced at the start of the season, even though they denote projects at the antipodes from a mechanical point of view and in the interpretation of the upper aerodynamics of the car body. Binotto continues to reiterate that in Barcelona there will be a more representative picture of the balance of power, both because the teams will have reached a better understanding of the cars, and because the first significant updates on most of the cars will arrive in Spain. Meanwhile, the innovations introduced since the beginning of the season are slowly beginning to be felt on the RB18, including the finishing of the bellies and diffuser in Bahrain and the new lightened endplates of the front wing in Melbourne. In Imola, the Anglo-Austrian car was provided with further parts: vortex generator in the advanced central portion of the bottom (below) and lightened brake calipers. Red Bull is in fact the car that most of all on the grid started the season overweight compared to the regulatory limit. Individually, the updates contribute marginally to the performance growth, but it is easy to see how together they are helping to correct the initial limits of the car. Ferrari on the other hand continues to take more time to validate its development package. The single free practice session at Imola did not encourage introducing new features and it is likely that the F1-75 will remain unchanged also in Miami, thanks to the logistical difficulties and the new track. Barcelona therefore appears as the most suitable stage to see the first news on the Red, which Mattia Binotto anticipated will have to try to correct the accentuated porpoising of the F1-75. Ferrari is still excessively sensitive to aerodynamic rebound, thus having to adopt compromise structures that limit the generation of load from the bottom. All this forces the team to adopt higher wing levels, helping to amplify the speed gap at the end of the straight against Red Bull, as confirmed in Imola by Binotto himself: “I think when we and Red Bull use similar rear wings, the straight-line speeds are close. I don’t think there is a big difference. It depends on the compromise choices of the set-up “.

Behind Ferrari and Red Bull the technical picture is incredibly dynamic. An excellent McLaren is the winner, author of a commendable progression compared to the start of the season in Bahrain experienced in the rear. With the exception of a corrective to the aerodynamic appendages of the rear brake air intakes, the Mcl36 in Melbourne and Imola is the same one that raced in Bahrain, demonstrating how much progress can be made with just understanding the car and defining more effective set-ups. . The podium at Imola also provides an important confirmation of the renewed competitiveness of the Woking team, which attributed the performance of Melbourne to the affinity of the car with the Australian track. The car, which has remained unchanged since the last Grand Prix, was instead confirmed in the role of third force on a radically different track, moreover in all types of conditions, from dry to wet. Norris says he is satisfied with the overall balance of the car, whose delay from the top is attributable to less cornering than the competition. However, the Mcl36 has grown in every aspect, from straight-line travel to agility in the slow, but it should also be highlighted an excellent control of the aerodynamic rebound thanks to the notches in the bottom that offer an outlet to the air flow in those critical conditions close to stall. . McLaren is now a candidate for the role of favorite for third place in the championship, considering the lack of progress on the part of Mercedes and the lack of reliability of Alpine.

Alfa Romeo grabs an extraordinary fifth place in the constructors’ standings. The team benefits from a car that from the first race traveled at the weight limit allowed by the regulations, the only one on the grid to do so. In Imola, the team also introduced new bellies (below), redesigned at the rear near the tapering of the Coca-Cola area. Haas, on the other hand, showed some shortcomings in race pace both on Saturday and Sunday. However, the Italian-American team will soon benefit from a new fund, already ready for Imola but not used due to the difficulty of evaluating it with adverse weather conditions. The new bottom is likely to help counter porpoising, particularly evident on the VF-22, and potentially could contribute to a notable leap forward in performance. Lastly, the comeback up to the points area of ​​Yuki Tsunoda with the AlphaTauri, which benefited from several updates introduced at Imola concentrated in the cross-country area, and the double finish in the points of Aston Martin, which after Melbourne was still stationary at zero altitude. It is positive to note that for the first time since 2019 no team will close the season with zero points in the standings, thus underlining the greater average balance of the starters.

A closing note for Mercedes, whose fourth place by Russell partially hides the strong limitations of an increasingly incompressible car. It was commented on the eve of Imola that the Silver Arrows would not have the certainty of confirming themselves as third force on the track, although the championship standings still see the Brackley team on the podium. In fact, a subtle parallelism is outlined with the technical picture of Ferrari in 2020, able to fight at the top of the center-group in the first races, but then unable to keep up with the pace of development of the competition, inevitably retreating towards the bottom. Like the Maranello Scuderia in 2020, Brackley’s team is experiencing a technical stalemate, in which the lack of correlation with the design tools prevents them from identifying the origin of the car’s problems and preparing the necessary corrections. In a context where everyone brings updates or improves their understanding of the car, see McLaren, Mercedes seems destined to move further and further away from the top, unless progress is made in that “trying to understand” whose importance has long been emphasized by those who, like Binotto, have personally experienced a similar situation.

FP | Carlo Platella

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