The long run simulations completed by Formula 1 teams during FP2 for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix have painted a particularly distressing picture.
Despite Monza serving as their home race, Ferrari are substantially down on long run pace in comparison to their German rivals Mercedes, who completed smooth, conclusive and uninterrupted simulations during the session.
With Pirelli choosing a conservative range of tyres for the weekend, only the two softest compounds, the soft and supersofts, were used to gather data in the session. In fact, the race is currently looking to be an easy one stop.
With regards to pace, though, Mercedes were simply in a class of their own as Ferrari leaked a second to them on both race compounds. As a matter of fact, Kimi Raikkonen’s fastest supersoft lap was still two tenths off the overall average timing of Lewis Hamilton on the same compound.
The supersoft running was the most concerning simulations completed during the session, as there is no obvious reason explaining the lack of pace on behalf of Ferrari. In the end, Kimi Raikkonen, the only Ferrari to complete a long run on the supersofts, was a whole 1.067s behind Hamilton’s four lap average.
The only real explanation for such a sizable margin between the two Constructors Championship contenders is run length; Kimi Raikkonen’s timings were from eight fast laps, Hamilton’s were only from four.
But, even if you only take Raikkonen’s four quickest laps, his average only comes down to 1:25.395s – which is still a whole 0.751s behind Hamilton’s blistering four lap average.
“We got the running done,” Hamilton commented after the session, “we got through our programme with no problems.”
If the supersoft pace wasn’t concerning enough for Ferrari – their pace on the soft tyre is also pretty scarce as Sebastian Vettel’s average lap time was over a second behind that of Valtteri Bottas. These two drivers were the only ones to complete long runs on the softs.
Though, in saying that, the situation between the compounds is pretty similar because Bottas completed just three laps to Vettel’s ten. But yet again, even taking Vettel’s fastest three laps produces an average which is still just under half-a-second slower than Bottas’ laps.
Given the major disparity between these runs, fuel is another factor which would’ve likely played a factor. Sebastian Vettel’s entire run totaled 18 laps whereas Bottas was on track for just 6.
Also, the substantial difference could be explained by alternate strategies – Ferrari’s extended length suggests they might have been evaluating the soft tyre to run it in the opening stint. Bottas’ short run toward the end of FP2 (after his supersoft running) certainly suggests they were testing the tyre on low fuel, giving it race-like conditions.
“This afternoon for the first part of the session we mostly used Soft tires,” Vettel told media later that day, “but I am not entirely happy because we had a mixed run with a lot of traffic and the Virtual Safety Car period.”
In the end, Vettel was only able to complete three consecutive hot laps during his simulation as up to six instances of stoppages and traffic halted his progress.
“So it hasn’t been the ideal day you are normally looking for,” he said.
The only time Ferrari proved anywhere near to a match for Mercedes was when it came down to qualifying simulations. These runs were completed before the long runs in FP2 and form the overall timings which judge the order of the session.
As you might have seen, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was only 0.140s behind the quickest Mercedes’ of Valtteri Bottas in this area. Although it didn’t put Ferrari ahead, it put them closer to Mercedes on qualifying pace than in Belgium, where Ferrari were 0.262s behind after FP2.
Given the efficiency of the Mercedes power unit, it’s no surprise they’ve proved strong here. Ferrari’s ability to finish within 0.140s on qualifying simulations when they’re over a second behind on race runs suggests their strategy is to use pole position as a stepping stone to victory.
You only have to look to last weekend’s Belgium Grand Prix to see how important pole position is during 2017.
That race saw two equally balanced cars, with regards to race pace, yet Hamilton was able to take a fine victory due to his superior starting position. Later in the race, we saw Raikkonen’s Ferrari struggling to keep with the Renault powered Red Bull – which simply optimized the importance of track position.
So, the simple question arising from this long run data is: have Ferrari sacrificed setup performance for Sunday afternoon to ensure they secure the front row for Saturday’s qualifying session?
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