Ferrari's Bahrain Edge Was More Than Speed

Ferrari's Bahrain Edge Was More Than Speed

08 April 2019

Ferrari may not have won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but its performance impressed Autosport's technical expert Gary Anderson, who believes the team learned a lot from its Melbourne struggles to adapt best of all to the demands of the Sakhir circuit

The Bahrain Grand Prix was the turnaround in the season that Ferrari desperately needed. The team's performance was back to what we saw in pre-season testing at Barcelona, with an advantage of around three tenths of a second in qualifying.

So the big question is: how do you explain the swing since the performance in Melbourne?

Rumour has it, as suggested by Red Bull's Helmut Marko, that Ferrari had cooling problems in Australia. But I don't agree with that idea because even if the cooling isn't right then it will be OK for one lap in qualifying. But Ferrari was well off both in qualifying and race conditions.

Mercedes seems to have focused on the fact that Ferrari was gaining all of its time in Bahrain on the straights. Team boss Toto Wolff suggested this was worth "almost half a second", but I don't agree that it's that simple. Every circuit requires a compromise of aerodynamic drag to engine power and then that dictates your downforce level. I think in Bahrain Ferrari achieved that compromise better than the other teams.

Qualifying, where all the drivers want to get a clean lap not following another car and they can all use the DRS to the same extent, is the best time to compare speeds.

The start/finish line in Bahrain has a speed trap and then you have the main speed trap at the end of that straight - 144 metres before Turn 1 to be precise - which is a good place to compare the acceleration and the terminal speed. I've done so below with the Mercedes and Ferraris, plus the fastest and slowest overall at those points for context.

Start/finish line speed trap and overall position

  • 1 Norris (McLaren-Renault) 186.7mph
  • 3 Vettel (Ferrari) 185.4mph
  • 5 Leclerc (Ferrari) 184.6mph
  • 10 Bottas (Mercedes) 183.0mph
  • 12 Hamilton (Mercedes) 182.7mph
  • 20 Kubica (Williams-Mercedes 180.9mph

Speed trap at end of pit straight and overall position

  • 1 Vettel (Ferrari) 203.6mph
  • 8 Leclerc (Ferrari) 201.1mph
  • 10 Hamilton (Mercedes) 200.6mph
  • 13 Bottas (Mercedes) 200.4mph
  • 20 Magnussen (Haas-Ferrari) 196.4mph

Delta speed between these two speed traps and overall position

  • 1 Stroll (Racing Point-Mercedes) 21.1mph
  • 8 Vettel (Ferrari) 18.2mph
  • 11 Hamilton (Mercedes 17.9mph
  • 12 Bottas (Mercedes) 17.4mph
  • 14 Leclerc (Ferrari) 16.4mph
  • 20 Norris (McLaren-Renault) 12.8mph

So what does all that tell us? When you consider that you are not allowed to alter the rear wing aerodynamics between qualifying and the race, then going into qualifying top speed without the DRS open is important if you are going to stand any chance of not being overtaken in the race by another car with the benefit of it. On top of that, you get the benefit of the DRS speed in qualifying like anyone else.

As you can also see by listing who was fastest and who was slowest, the engine does not dictate the speed performance - otherwise why is Kevin Magnussen with his Ferrari engine slowest in the speed trap? As for Lando Norris, it looks like McLaren was running too high a downforce level or that McLaren's DRS when open doesn't give the speed shift of others.

The set-up of a car for each individual circuit is all about the compromises and making the correct decisions is no easy task. Each team will run through thousands of simulations before deciding on the levels of spring stiffness relative to roll stiffness and cambers comparing braking efficiency against cornering efficiency.

Then the two most important factors are energy deployment against energy harvesting, and drag against engine power. This in the end dictates downforce and I think Ferrari learned a lot from getting it badly wrong in Melbourne, which made those in the team scratch their heads and get it more right than the others at Sakhir.