The Beginning of the End? Will Ferrari Struggle at the Miami GP?

Credit: Ferrari

Imola was heartbreaking for the Tifosi and now many are wondering if the advantage has moved to Red Bull and Miami might be the place we find out.

Things didn’t go exactly to plan for Ferrari at Imola and you have to wonder if this is where the pendulum begins to swing the other way in Red Bull’s favour? The problem with giving any definite answers is that there is still so much that isn’t known about either team’s car and how they perform on different circuits and different conditions.

Let’s take a look at what we do know and what the teams have said and hopefully we can gauge if this is the beginning of the end for Ferrari’s stellar 2022 season.

Ferrari At Imola

Ferrari were one of the few teams that didn’t introduce major upgrades to their car for Imola. They had good reasons for doing so, with a major one being a large points buffer between themselves and Red Bull in the Championship standings. But Mattia Binotto, Ferrari team principal, put it nicely,

“If we look at ourselves, there will not be [many upgrades] in Imola because it will not be the right place. We’ve tried to mitigate, shall I say, the issue we’ve got still so far – the porpoising and the bouncing – that has affected our performance over the weekend, so we try to work on that specific point. But with the upgrades, the more significant ones will be later on in the season.”

We saw this clearly as Ferrari were still competitive at Imola but did not have the significant advantage they had in Australia. Granted, Carlos Sainz was out of the picture due to a collision with Daniel Ricciardo so that would have severely hampered their results, but even with Charles Leclerc’s race, you could see the difference Red Bull’s upgrades made. Maybe had Ferrari had a better start, things would have been closer, but Red Bull nonetheless commanded the race.

Part of the answer was Ferrari’s insistence on reliability as Binotto takes a subtle jab at Red Bull, “Reliability is a part of the performance I think… to finish first, first you need to finish, so reliability is a key element. As a team, we put a priority on it with the set-up for the races – it is part of the game.”

Unfortunately, this time it didn’t pay off.

Red Bull Upgrades

Credit:iragazzidiredbull via flickr

Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, said that at Imola they “took a big risk coming into the weekend with a couple of small parts we introduced to the car, which is always tricky when you’ve only got one session.”

The risk was deemed too big for Ferrari as Imola had only one practice session thanks to the sprint, but it paid off for Red Bull. However, Max Verstappen is unsure whether or not it was the updates that really pushed Red Bull to a sensational 1-2 finish. Verstappen claimed that it was maybe the team’s greater understanding of the car and its operation that improved, “Sometimes that can be worth more than updates. We’ll see in the next few races.”

The Red Bull updates for Imola were focused primarily on weight reduction. Their target is to lose 10kg by Barcelona (two races away) and so far they’ve managed to reduce the weight by 3kg at Imola. The biggest weight saver was the new brake calipers.

There were also some aerodynamic improvements made. The main improvement here was an added winglet to the keel splitter on the floor. This conditions the airflow making its way to the underbody tunnels which then adds extra downforce to the front part of the floor. Therefore, the aerodynamic pressure has been shifted slightly forwards.

Red Bull have been slowly upgrading their car since Bahrain which is why they have gained on the Ferrari’s who have avoided any major updates to their car.

Carlos Sainz's Redemption

Credit: El Hormiguero

Once Ferrari driver, Carlos Sainz, can get up to speed with the car at the same level as his teammate Charles Leclerc, then Red Bull have something to seriously worry about. And we shouldn’t count out Sainz. The Spaniard had a great start to 2022 with a P2 in Bahrain and P3 in Saudi Arabia. But Australia went terribly after a crash in lap 2 and Imola was no better after a crash in qualifying and a crash in lap 1. Sainz hasn’t been happy with his own performance,

“I’m still not as smooth as I’d like to be, and mistakes like [in qualifying] prove that maybe I’m still not 100% happy with the car and understanding it fully. But I’m hustling out there.”

He goes on to explain that he has had to change up his driving and that he’s challenging himself, “and mistakes are going to come when you’re challenging yourself like that.”

It isn’t fair to say that Sainz has lost the touch or anything like that after a spectacular 2021 season where he actually beat Charles Leclerc in the driver’s standings. His consistency last year was commendable and shouldn’t be so easily forgotten after two bad races and Miami may be the place where he finds his feet again.

“I need some testing and I need some free practices to try things and bring it more to my liking, and for that I need FP1s and FP2s. As soon as I find the balance that I like and the combination with my driving, I know I can be as fast as anyone out there.”

Given that Miami does offer three practice sessions combine that with Sainz’s desire to up his performance, he will certainly be one to keep a close eye on.

Ferrari's Plans for Miami

The long straights in Miami will likely force teams to run a lower downforce spec as there will be a large emphasis on top speed for those straights. Ferrari are acutely aware that they lack in that respect when compared to Red Bull. For Miami, Ferrari are aiming to simply change their downforce configuration.

As Binotto stated, they will not have the main upgrade in Miami either,

“But still, we will have a few new parts on the car. Because Miami is a high-speed circuit compared to the ones we had so for, in terms of downforce, we will run something different compared to what we have. Hopefully the level of downforce we bring to Miami, we are quite confident it’s quite an efficient one. But we know as well that Red Bull has got a good medium/low downforce package as well, and they will be competitive.”

It will be close but given a renewed focus, it’s likely that the Ferrari’s will be coming out to play in Miami. It’s the difference in cars that is the deciding factor.

How The Ferrari Differs

Ferrari have typically fared far better than the Red Bull in terms of acceleration and performance in low/medium speed corners. The Red Bull’s on the other hand have the edge when it comes to high-speed corners and on the straights.

Red Bull have been slowly adding more downforce to the car in order to limit how much they’re losing in the corners.

We turn to Binotto again for some clear insight,

If I look at Jeddah, certainly they were a lot faster. If I look at Bahrain, there, the DRS effect was certainly powerful, and the way they were catching us on the straight was significant. But then if I look at Australia, I think that they put on some downforce, and the speed was very similar between the two cars. If you look at the rear wings they’ve got, certainly they increased the level of downforce. And I think when running on similar wings, we are pretty close on the speed as well. So, I don’t think there is a big difference there.”

Charles Leclerc seems to agree, “With Red Bull it’s either one weekend they are stronger, another we are stronger and it’s been the case from the beginning of the season where it’s like this. In Bahrain we were stronger, in Australia, we were stronger and in the other two they were stronger. So I still feel like we are there more or less and it’s track dependent who of the two are coming out on top. So I don’t think there are any significant differences yet. But yes, they were a bit stronger than we were this weekend.”

The Miami track is new so we can really only guess as to how the Ferrari’s will perform on it.

The Track in Miami

A few drivers have already tested the track in a simulator and they had some interesting things to say about it. AlphaTauri driver, Pierre Gasly, was broad with his take, “Quite a lot of high-speed content, quite challenging, unusual types of corners, extremely long corners, very long straights.”

Red Bull driver, Sergio Perez, said that “it has a little bit of a twisty area that is quite difficult to get right, and the visibility can be difficult. But I think racing can be good with all those long straights. I just hope the asphalt can be good…”

Gasly’s teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, said the track is “really different, especially in sector three, it’s such tight corners. If a safety car happens, I guess it’s going to be like a real traffic jam there, because it’s super tight, even on like a hot lap, it’s still quite slow corners.”

Will Ferrari Struggle?

Ferrari are in a good position to recover from Imola but there are several challenges ahead of the team. Given that they are not introducing a major upgrade in Miami, they will likely not be completely dominant as they were in Australia. If Carlos Sainz can keep up the pressure on Red Bull then that will at least allow Ferrari more options for strategy as the race progresses as well.

Ferrari know that they need to address their top speed and they are introducing small upgrades in Miami with this in mind. But the track really doesn’t seem to favour them. The long straights may be their downfall, but it is also possible that they can make up for lost time in sector three where drivers have reported very slow corners aka Ferrari’s specialty this year. But if only one out of the three sectors favour Ferrari, it’s hard to say with confidence that it will be their weekend hands down. It will be tight.  

So at the end of it all, will Ferrari struggle? Yes, but not massively. Miami will be a challenge for Ferrari, but it is not out of the realm of possibility for the team to get great results and maybe even win. It all depends if their small upgrades can mitigate their losses on the straights.

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