GP Imola 2022
During the sprint at Imola, Red Bull retaliated for a bitter Melbourne defeat. And with the same weapons that Ferrari won in Australia. Red Bull has kept its tires in better shape.
Red Bull and Ferrari have almost equal race cars. Details determine victory and defeat. It is still the case that Red Bull spends its time in the straights and Ferrari on the corners. Especially in slow corners.
“Ferrari has the best driving ability out of the slow corners. From the engine and from the car,” said Red Bull Technical Director Adrian Newey. It was precisely this power that Ferrari was suddenly no longer able to exploit in the final stage of the Mini-Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc got exactly the trouble that robbed Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez of every chance in Melbourne. From lap 14 the Ferrari started to cut back. Kornen entered the right front. Since then, the world championship leader’s lead over Verstappen has shrunk. From 1.7 seconds within the hitting distance of two laps to go.
With the DRS advantage of 9 km/h, the world champion overtook Ferrari just before the braking point of the Tamborello curve. After that, Leclerc was demolished. The world championship leader did not have the grip on the front axle of the counterattack.
a matter of balance
“We expected the grain, but not too early,” Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto admitted. “It would have happened to us too, but only on lap 22,” said Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s sporting director. The man from Graz saw the secret in a perfectly balanced car. In stark contrast to Melbourne: “We wanted to fight over-steer and hit less severe”.
Binotto confirmed: “Our car’s balance wasn’t perfect today. If you’re just training in the rain to get ready for a dry race, you can be wrong sometimes.” Leclerc had a different suspicion: “Maybe I pushed the speed too hard at the start of the sprint.”
By the way, Carlos Sainz in his second Ferrari survived tire problems. “He also drove a different race than where he started. That’s why the demands on his tires were completely different,” Binotto explained. Sainz made six places in the race. Red Bull’s second seed Sergio Perez jumped from sixth to third.
Marko does not rule out a double win: “Perez was going to catch Leclerc on the next lap. He was running at the same speed as the leaders after he got a clear run. If we wanted to catch Ferrari, we have to do more than one on Sunday to make up the point.”
According to Newey, Melbourne’s defeat was a warning shot for the engineers, but it did not provide any direct insights into Imola. “It’s not comparable. It was a different car, different track and different conditions.”
The only learning curve was striving to find the perfect balance for the car and trying two tire compounds in FP2 on Saturday afternoon to learn more about the soft and medium rubber behaviour.
Red Bull promotion work
It was also important that Max Verstappen keep the pressure on Leclerc from the start. A Ferrari driver would never feel safe, not even when he shook his pursuer outside the DRS area for ten laps.
Leclerc always had to attack which eventually drove him to the tire trap. Verstappen analyzed “Initially Charles was faster, but then the pendulum swung. We had better tires in the last laps. That was the deciding factor.”
The fastest in the qualifiers lost the lead at the start. This isn’t the first time this season that Red Bull has had a problem. “The sync when switching from 1st to 2nd gear didn’t work,” Marko explained, but he sees no reason to worry that this would repeat in the main race: “It was a programming error.”
On a dry Saturday, Red Bull gave certainty that the second aerodynamic upgrade after the Bahrain test would work. “It did what we expected,” Marco praised. And he may have bridged the gap with Ferrari, which was three-tenths in Melbourne. “Now we still have the weight factor on our side,” Marko hopes. “Ferrari is a little lighter than our car.”
With the cars remaining at the Parc fermé until the main race, the question is whether Leclerc will fear the same problems on Sunday and whether Verstappen really feels like a winner. “There are other tires involved, so it could be completely different,” refuses the race winner.
Newey cautions that grain can be expected even on the average compound if the balance is incorrect. “There are ways to fix that with permissible interventions,” Binotto reassured the Tifosi family. For example with air balance, tire pressure or brake cooling.