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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: How Ferrari really stacks up vs Red Bull after testing

by Mark Hughes
4 min read

Pre-season Formula 1 testing all shook out in a fairly understandable way in the end. 

Max Verstappen, who was only fourth on the headline numbers on the final day, set a 1m30.755s early on Friday afternoon on a set of mid-range C3 tyres which had already done an attack lap. Realistically, that’s the equivalent of a 1m30.5s lap on fresh C3s. 

The three cars ahead of the Red Bull on the final timing screens – the Ferrari, the Mercedes and a literally last lap flying Sauber – all did their times on the C4 tyre, which is around 0.6s quicker than the C3. 

Theoretically correcting everyone to fresh C3s – and bearing in mind that Verstappen’s time came at around 4pm with the track at an unhelpfully hot 34-degrees C – the Red Bull appeared to have a real advantage of around 0.4 seconds over Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and George Russell’s Mercedes over a single lap. 

The Ferrari’s pace has been evident throughout the three days of testing whereas that of the Mercedes was only extracted late on the final day.

Furthermore, Mercedes didn’t get to do a race simulation as it devoted its time to relatively short runs assessing test items.

So we don’t have a full picture on just exactly where Mercedes stands, but even discounting the C4 rubber Russell used to set that second-fastest time, his time on C3s tallies closely with that of Leclerc, which was set a little earlier when the track was around three degrees hotter and so probably slower, so suggesting that the Ferrari probably shades the Mercedes over a lap based on what we saw.

But, as ever, we don’t know the base fuel weights.

The fact that no one approached Carlos Sainz’s C4-shod 1m29.9s from Thursday suggests the track may have been slower on the final day. Correcting for his tyres on day two, Sainz had shaded Sergio Perez by around 0.1s. On Friday – again correcting for tyres – Leclerc was shaded by Verstappen by 0.4s. 

If we take Verstappen’s theoretical fresh-tyred 1m30.5s as the baseline, we get the following approximate order of one-lap pace:

Red Bull
Ferrari/Mercedes + 0.4s
McLaren +0.5s
Aston Martin +0.6s
RB/Williams +0.9s
Sauber/Alpine/Haas +1.0s

Sauber did what it did here a couple of years ago and produced a last lap flyer on the softest tyre and presumably without even the base weight of fuel it had been carrying up to that point, giving Zhou Guanyu that third-fastest time.

But everything the Sauber had done up until that moment suggests it’s really in a very tight tail-end group with RB, Williams, Alpine and Haas in the order described above.


The picture changes slightly when looking at the available race simulations.

Red Bull, Aston Martin, McLaren, Williams, RB, Sauber and Haas all completed a three-stint race simulation. Ferrari appeared to do only the first two stints and a partial third before the session ended. Neither Mercedes nor Alpine attempted the simulation.

Verstappen completed the fastest race simulation, way more competitive than that recorded yesterday by Perez who seemed to be carrying a problem.

But in the two stints completed by Leclerc he was nip and tuck as quick as Verstappen. We just do not have the full validation of him completing that third stint to know for sure.

Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur acknowledged that the tyre degradation was “on a different planet” better than that of a year ago and it seems as if the new Ferrari may have given away some one-lap pace to Red Bull in exchange for some race pace. In all, it’s been a highly encouraging three days for the Scuderia.

Aston Martin’s race sim was somewhat truncated and a long way from the full 57-lap race distance, but Fernando Alonso did complete three stints. Assuming equal fuelling, his pace suggested that the Aston Martin would finish around 16s behind the Red Bull over the 57 laps and probably behind the Ferrari too, with the Mercedes an unknown dark horse. 

Although the McLaren appeared to ace the Aston Martin over a lap, its race simulation was nowhere near as good, Oscar Piastri struggling with heavy degradation of both the C3 and C1 compounds. Piastri’s race sim was in fact slower than the Williams of Alex Albon and roughly on a par with Daniel Ricciardo’s RB.

The Haas was a solid last in the race sim, almost half-a-minute adrift of the RB, with Zhou’s Sauber in between. 

That’s how it was poised at the end of three days of testing but some of the gaps are small enough to make the order somewhat volatile.

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