Ferrari (NYSE:RACE) had the potential to win at Baku and again came up short.
A series of errors were to blame, but Ferrari threw away an opportunity to set MercedesAMG back, and it did not.
The Baku City Circuit is a dramatic but relatively low-energy trace, without the sort of high-speed corners that generate load in the tires and get them up to temperature. Combined with Baku’s long straights, where the tires cool off, you need a car setup that generates enough temperature in the front tires for them to bite against the smooth track surface. MercedesAMG saw that and moved to isolate the problem in the data and fixed it, Ferrari did not.
Ferrari’s pace in FP3 meant it had the luxury of strategizing the race. So fast were its Red cars over a single lap that they could consider using the slower medium compound in the 2nd part of qualifying rather than the faster soft. This is a tactic often employed by the Top teams in qualifying as the tires used in Q2 are the same tires used start the race. By using the medium in Q2, Ferrari could, in theory, use its pace Saturday to gain an extra advantage Sunday Vs MercedesAMG. But while the Northside of such a strategy was clear, there was a less tangible Southside.
Baku’s street course relies on drivers getting into a rhythm around the lap.
‘Hooking up’ all 20 corners while driving on the limit requires a degree of trust in the car and the level of grip, and changing tire compounds suddenly alters the drivers feelings.
Going in, Pirelli predicted that the medium tire was 1.2sec slower than the softs over 1 lap, that is the kind of performance difference that exists between 1 of the front running cars and a midfield racer.
The drivers are aware of the difference in feel and performance between tire compounds and should be able to react, but changing was an added complication that offers some explanation for what came next.
On the approach to Turn 8, the narrowest corner on the F1 calendar, Charles Leclerc asked too much of his tires under braking, locked up and hit the wal. Ferrari’s advantage was wiped out in 1 corner.
“I just tried to brake a bit harder, well actually I do not think I put more brakes, but I just braked as much as I did on the soft tire but obviously I was on the medium and I locked up,” he said. “But I don’t want to it be misunderstood, there is no problems with the tires, it is just myself. I am very disappointed.”
The MercedesAMG team’s strategy: “We made the decision before FP3 whether we wanted to run the medium in FP3 and 1 soft instead of 2 softs, and we felt that it was better to prepare the drivers on a circuit like Baku by throwing soft tires at them in Q1, Q2 and Q3 rather than having a medium in the mix,” MercedesAMG boss Toto Wolff said after qualifying. “So we ran the medium in FP3 and we had 6 softs for qualifying. Ferrari ran 2 softs in the morning and they had to run the medium during qualifying and obviously hoped to qualify on the medium.”
And with Ferrari’s lead driver, Sebastian Vettel,making it through to Q3 Ferrari was still the favorite for the Pole.
MercedesAMG knew it had to do something special to make the difference and, it did with another masterstroke to lock out the front row of the grid.
A wild race might have offered Ferrari a path to victory, but the Y 2019 edition of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix fairly tame.
Mr. Leclerc’s strategy, which saw him lead the race from lap 14 to lap 34 was all about waiting for a Safety Car to give him a free pit stop, it never came.
And although Ferrari’s qualifying engine settings gave it an edge over 1 lap, it was not able to replicate the same power advantage in the race, and so without a significant pace advantage and very little margin to play with tire strategy, another 3-5 finish was the best The Scuderia could manage.
“I think we had a good car for qualifying — potentially we could have been on pole – but we were not,” Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto explained. “And I think that the races are certainly a different matter.
“The reason of it is a different day at 1st. I think between being out in front like Mercedes or being stuck behind like Vettel, it is quite different to manage your pace, your tires.
“When you have got fresh or clean air certainly it is a lot easier, so I think that our pace as well today has been affected by our position on the grid. But not only that certainly the others are very strong and we are facing a very strong competition.”
As it stands now, there is no indication things will get any easier for Ferrari. Just as every 1-2 victory mounts pressure on the Maranello Outfit, it emboldens the Silver Arrows.
“I think that obviously four races into the season, no win for Ferrari and four wins for Mercedes, no doubt they are very strong,” Mr. Binotto said Sunday night. “Certainly they have got a slightly better car, but I think that the gap is not so big and the points on the results table are not reflecting the true potential of the cars.
“Yesterday, as we just said with Charles, we had the potential for Pole, and if you have got a car fast enough to score potentially the Pole, you have got a good car overall. In the race today, yes, we were not as fast as them, but we did not finish 20 secs behind.
“I think that Seb somehow at the end of the race was somehow quite close, and if you look at the delta lap time average on the race, somehow it is significant but still little, and I think it’s something on which there is much to try to work and then to close in the near future.
“The updates we brought here worked as expected. These are only the very first ones. A few updates are expected as well in the next races, so we will not stop here. Our hopes definitely are that we can do a better job in the future.”
A strong start to the European season at the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks will be Key for Ferrari.
Barcelona played host to pre-season testing in February and it was there that the Ferrari car looked like the hands down winner. If Ferrari comes alive again at the Circuit de Catalunya then the championship will be back on, but suffer another defeat and the remainder of the Y 2019 season will start to look grim.
MercedesAMG are very strong as a team, and Ferrari must learn how to beat them to the Chequered flag.
Ferrari is the Aristocrat of the automotive sector.
The iconic Italian Supercar manufacturer claimed the title according to the latest Brand Finance Global 500 2019 report launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
HeffX-LTN overall technical outlook for RACE is Neutral to Bullish there is resistance now at 140.58, then none, as the stock is very oversold, MACD and Stochastics 3 of our Key indicators is Very Bullish in here.