Why the Ferrari was a ‘different beast’ at Monza


MONZA, Italy — Although it wasn’t the dream result the tifosi had hoped for, Ferrari’s third and fourth-place finishes at the Italian Grand Prix represented a significant step forward compared to its performance at the vast majority of circuits this year.

Just one week before at the Dutch Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc claimed the driveability of the car had hit a new low after he crashed out of qualifying and retired from the race with damage from a collision with Oscar Piastri’s McLaren.

Yo-yoing performance has been a constant thorn in Ferrari’s side this season, but the team now thinks it understands the causes.

A very basic analysis shows that when the car is running maximum downforce it develops unwanted and unpredictable handling traits – the sort that led Leclerc’s disastrous performance at Zandvoort.

However, with its downforce trimmed back and a fresh engine installed at the Italian Grand Prix, the Ferrari was suddenly a match for the all-conquering Red Bull of Max Verstappen in qualifying.

So, what’s going on with the Ferrari and did Monza represent a genuine breakthrough in the Italian team’s season?

“You can look at the evidence and clearly as we take downforce off the car it becomes more and more competitive,” senior performance engineer Jock Clear said ahead of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.

“From a trackside point of view, we’ve understood from previous races that there are conditions where this car is competitive all the way around the track. If you look at Austria, look at Spa, it wasn’t like we were only competitive on the straights or just managing to hang on in the corners, we were competitive everywhere and that’s what you saw in qualifying [at Monza].

“We were competitive in the corners where normally we would have struggled, like Turn 11 [Parabolica], so it’s a different animal here.

“I think we understand quite a lot of that but I’m not going to share it with you!”

While Clear is reluctant to divulge all of Ferrari’s secrets, one thing that was obvious to anyone who took a close look at the SF23 this weekend is the effort the team put in to scoring big at its home race.

Under the one-off paint scheme inspired by Ferrari’s Le Mans winning 499P, the SF23 had one the most extensive upgrade packages of any car for the Italian Grand Prix.

All teams brought Monza-specific changes to their cars, but with in-season development restricted by F1’s financial and aero testing regulations, many of them, including Red Bull, simply tweaked existing parts to shed downforce for the circuit’s long straights.

Ferrari, however, brought new front and rear wings aimed at maximising the SF23’s inherently strong performance traits as well as fitting new power units to both cars.

Asked if there was a sentimental reason for Ferrari putting so much effort into its Monza preparations, especially as the low-downforce configuration that featured at the weekend won’t run again at any other race track this year, Clear responded: “Have you seen how much red there is out in the crowd. Go figure!

“Obviously, there is a cost cap and everyone has to decide what they want to spend money on, and nowadays Monza is a unique race and the only place where we would run absolutely low downforce.

“But given that early in the season we recognised that lower downforce was suiting us better, it would have been silly for us, not just from a sentimental point of view and not just because the crowd is full of red, but it’s clearly a circuit that is going to benefit us, and we knew that a few months ago.

“Doing a bespoke package for here was the right thing to do from a performance point of view and of course it comes with a Ferrari being on pole at Monza, and that is worth a huge amount to all of us, as motivation to crowd, the tifosi the drivers, there is nothing better.”

Even though the Monza package won’t run again this year, Clear believes Ferrari has learned some important lessons from the highs and lows of the last two race weekends — lessons that can be applied to upcoming races, including the next round at Singapore.

“One of the things you do get here is a really good grip on your mechanical balance, and kerb riding has been really good because we worked on that before the event and I think we can carry that forward,” he added. “I think we’ve got to take each race at a time and we know this animal quite well now, so there will be races later on in the year where we feel we will be much more competitive and they will be the ones where you are not going to be running maximum downforce.

“We go to Singapore at maximum downforce, but it’s not like we are just going to give up on Singapore, there’s a lot we can do learning from Zandvoort about what we can do with the car in Singapore, but that said it’s not going to be a race we are going to go to and be at this level of performance straight away unless we make some big improvements.”

Ferrari is planning major changes to its car for next year with the aim of addressing the issues it has experienced at high-downforce circuits this year. As recently as the Dutch Grand Prix, technical director Enrico Cardile said his team fully understands the issues with this year’s SF23, something that Clear believes is also evident from the performance in Monza.

“I think the most important thing about a weekend like this is to understand why you are better off,” he added. “Coming into this race we were confident that we understood enough about the car to know that we would be competitive here, and that’s the most encouraging thing for next year, for any year, when you understand what you are doing.

“When you get anomalies, and we’ve had a couple earlier on in the season where we didn’t understand, not specifically overall circuits, but there are some places where in some corners we just couldn’t work out why we were so slow in some corners, so you really have to scratch your head and say there’s something we are missing here.

“To come to Monza and have the car perform exactly how we expected it to, is a real fillip for all the design team and the aero department, because that is an affirmation that we know what we are doing, we understand what the car is doing and therefore what we are projecting for next year, we have every confidence is realistic.”

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