F1: Why Ferrari’s (NYSE:RACE) Vettel Was Not on the Podium Sunday

F1: Why Ferrari’s (NYSE:RACE) Vettel Was Not on the Podium Sunday

F1: Why Ferrari’s (NYSE:RACE) Vettel Was Not on the Podium Sunday


  •  Sebastian Vettel tells why Ferrari lacked pace at the Spanish Grand Prix

Ferrari (NYSE:RACE) F1 team driver, Sebastian Vettel spoke publicly in the aftermath of the Spanish Grand Prix, and he was very direct about why he was not on the podium on Sunday afternoon.

“We didn’t have winning pace today, that’s why we did not win,” he said. “There are a couple of things that contributed. In the short term, we all had our updates for this race but maybe the others have brought more than us and, on top of that, we had different tires, which maybe suited others more than us.

“But what does it help? Why find excuses? The bottom line is we were not quick enough to win. That’s what we have to address. Not ‘did we have a disadvantage here’, ‘was that the case’, ‘was this the case’, ‘did the safety car help or not?’ In the end we were not quick enough and our tires did not last as long as others.”

It sounds simple when you say it like that, yes?

On that track, with a that tire selection, MercedesAMG had the quicker car and Ferrari was 3nd best. But there is always a story behind a race result and last weekend it was tires.

This story started in January when the track surface of the Circuit de Catalunya was re-laid with a new, smoother tarmac ahead of pre-season testing.

The objective was to eliminate a series of bumps in the braking zones that had drawn criticism from MotoGP riders. The MotoGP race at Barcelona is more lucrative for the circuit than F1 and in order to ensure the race stayed on the calendar, the surface, which was last renewed in Y 2007, was laid afresh.

Unlike the relatively abrasive surface that was there before, the new surface was Super smooth.

F1 teams and drivers 1st experienced it during a very cold pre-season test, and a number of teams — most notably MercedesAMG struggled with excessive overheating of their tires.

The main problem was that the smoother surface was not resulting in as much physical wear from the tires as before. The more rubber remaining on the tire, the more heat it retains, and on the softer compounds the surface of the tire was getting so hot it started to blister.

In agreement with the FIA, a decision was made to reduce the thickness of the tires for the Spanish, French and British Grands Prix, in an attempt to avoid blistering on the newly-laid surfaces at all 3 circuits.

After being accused of favoring Red Bull Racing in Y 2013 when it changed the construction of its tires following that year’s Spanish Grand Prix, Pirelli has been wary of altering its product midway through the season.

But last weekend’s change is small in comparison, just 0.4mm of the tread was skimmed from the normal tire, and is common practice elsewhere in motor racing. And by all accounts the thinner-gauge tires were a success with no blistering reported during the race weekend. But in a sport measured in 1/1000 of a sec, the smallest changes can and does make a difference.

Ferrari did not struggle as much with overheating in testing and, for the past 2 years, has had an advantage over MercedesAMG on Pirelli’s softest compounds.

The MercedesAMG racers have a tendency to overheat its rears and end up with tire temperatures on the front and rear axles that do not match up. The Ferrari racer is more balanced and therefore the drivers have found it easier to get their tires in the ‘sweet-spot’.

Last weekend’s compound choice of super-soft, soft and medium was actually aggressive for Pirelli, and was essentially 2 steps softer than last year given the fact all Pirelli’s compounds have gone 1-step softer over the Winter. And by reducing the tread by a very small amount, Mr. Vettel said the softer compounds were acting more like the harder tires that tend to suit MercedesAMG over Ferrari.

“Obviously we have heard many times that they are the same compounds and not harder, but then I don’t think you need to be a genius to work out that if you skim the tyre it ends up being harder,” he said. “It’s one or the other, we may as well just have run harder tires.

“Maybe it didn’t suit our car as well as the other cars, but again what does it matter? We have to make it suit our car better than other cars, that’s the way we want to turn it.”

Even if the tire alterations did help MercedesAMG, Ferrari appeared to throw away a solid podium finish when Vettel pitted for a 2nd time from 2nd place in 2-H of the race.

A good start saw Mr. Vettel move from 3rd on the grid to 2nd by Turn 1, although it soon became clear that the Ferrari was the slower car in the opening stint.

Knowing this, Ferrari decided to be aggressive with its strategy in order to keep Mr. Vettel ahead of Valtteri Bottas and called its man in on Lap 17 to prevent Mr. Bottas from benefiting from clear air on the undercut.

A slow stop meant Mr. Vettel emerged from his 1st stop behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, a turn of events that gave the advantage to MercedesAMG. But Mr. Bottas also had a slow stop 2 laps later and emerged behind both Messrs Magnussen and Vettel, keeping the Ferrari in a net 2nd position once all the others in the Top 6 made their 1st stop.

But the pace of Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bulls during their opening stint meant a 1-stop strategy became an option.

MercedesAMG gave Mr. Hamilton the option of either strategy by pitting him on Lap 26 while the Red Bulls went even longer into the race in the hope of having fresher tires at the end of the race.

But by pitting Mr. Vettel early there was no flexibility in Ferrari’s strategy and the wear on the front left tire necessitated a 2nd pit stop before the end of the race.

Then a good opportunity to minimize the damage presented itself under a Virtual Safety Car and Ferrari took it, losing 2 positions to Messrs Bottas and Verstappen in the process.

Had Ferrari kept Mr. Vettel out and running, he would have started to lose all temperature in his front tires as the rubber became thinner and thinner and, in a worst-case scenario, risked a failure.

By comparison, Mr. Bottas’ tires were 2 laps younger on a car that looks after its fronts better arrived at the end of the race with the threads showing through on his front left.

So by being aggressive in trying to fend off Mr. Bottas in the opening stint, Ferrari left itself vulnerable when a 1-stop came into play later in the race. Misreading the tires’ wear life and assuming all drivers would 2-stop was a mistake, but given the new track surface, a rainstorm that hit Saturday night washing the track clean and the unknowns that came with the thinner gauge rubber, it was also understandable.

Racing has gotten very complex in this highly technical age.

The biggest issue that faced Ferrari in Barcelona was not having the fastest car.

The Scuderia, after being the team to beat at the previous 3 races, Ferrari was not a match for the MercedesAMG on 1-lap pace or race pace in Barcelona. But given MercedesAMG’s pace pre-season testing at the track, perhaps that might not have come as a surprise. Had the 1st race of the season come at the Circuit de Catalunya immediately after testing, last Sunday’s result would have been in line with expectations and we would probably be applauding Ferrari for qualifying within 2/10’s sec of what looked like another dominant MercedesAMG.

“I think the circuit suits us, the tarmac suited us, the cold weather suited us and insofar I would be careful with predictions,” MercedesAMG team boss Toto Wolff said Sunday night. “We have seen performance levels swing from race track to race track and even from day to day, and this is how we tackle it at the moment, to try and perform every single day.”

Symbol Last Trade Date Change Open High Low Volume
NYSE:RACE 135.2 14 May 2018 -0.85 135.35 136.24 135.04 179,400
HeffX-LTN Analysis for RACE: Overall Short Intermediate Long
Bullish (0.37) Bullish (0.34) Neutral (0.23) Very Bullish (0.54)

Monaco next, tune in.

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