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Formula 1 Japanese GP

Suzuka chicane struggles leaves Ferrari F1 team scratching its head

Ferrari is chasing answers as to why one of its key car strengths appears to have vanished at Formula 1’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

The Maranello outfit had hoped that the progress it had made with its SF-24 this year would allow it to pose a proper threat to Red Bull around the high-speed swoops of Suzuka.

Good progress has been made at the kind of corner speeds that are common around Suzuka, so the venue was going to be a good litmus test of how much of a step forward the team had taken.

While it duly managed to cut the deficit to Red Bull from 0.665 seconds last year to 0.485 seconds now, the gains still left a sense of dissatisfaction, especially because its long run form had looked every bit a match for the championship leaders throughout practice.

But perhaps key to it feeling that there was room to have done better was the fact that much of the deficit to Red Bull was not in the high-speed areas that had been a key focus. Instead, it was in the slow-speed turns where traditionally Ferrari has been so strong.

Analysis of the GPS traces comparing Max Verstappen’s pole position lap and Carlos Sainz’s effort showed that the majority of the gap between the cars was in the slow speed areas.

Sainz is one tenth behind coming out of Turn 2, and loses just one more tenth all the way up until the hairpin – where in one corner he drops back a further tenth.

From there until the chicane there is very little to choose between the two cars – as he even gains a little through Spoon Curve and the straight down to 130R, to leave him three tenths down.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

But then in the chicane all his efforts fall away as he loses another tenth in that one section alone.

Comparisons of Ferrari’s best laps from this year and last show that the Ferrari is slower this year in the hairpin and chicane – suggesting that something has changed with its approach to slow speed corners.

While a tenth of a second here and there may not sound much, when the grid is as competitive as F1 is right now then it matters a lot – which is why Ferrari says it needs to understand what is happening.

Speaking to Sky, Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur explained: “In all the sessions we struggled a lot in turn 17, the last of the chicane before the finish line.

“This was creating the gap to Max, and we have to talk about that. We talk about a tenth between ninth and fourth, and it's a matter of details.

“But details are important, so we have to focus on that and understand why we lose so much time in the last corner. It will also be important to figure it out for the race, because traction will be key. There is only one straight with DRS, so we have to solve that problem.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

With the current generation of F1 cars delivering teams an endless headache in trying to deal with the compromises needed to deliver downforce at a range of speeds, it could be that Ferrari’s chase for high-speed gains has compromised its low-speed advantage.

But Charles Leclerc, who was baffled by a lack of grip throughout qualifying, thinks things are a bit more complicated than that.

“We are further away than what we thought, so yeah, maybe the car characteristics also don't fit as much Suzuka as the Red Bull does," he said.

“However, it's a bit strange, because I think on the long run, we are pretty good, but on the short run we were nowhere today. So that is why it tells me that it's probably mostly tyre-related when it's like this."

But there is also another truth that Ferrari will not be able to ignore – and it’s that while Verstappen constantly moans about Red Bull’s performance in low speed, it is actually an area where the team has excelled.

As McLaren team principal Andrea Stella points out, everyone appears to have caught up in high speed but Red Bull’s strength is more than just that.

“Everyone has improved in high speed compared to Red Bull, but I think at the same time Red Bull retained an advantage in terms of straight-line speed,” he explained. “And they are also very good in all the other speeds.

“If you take the hairpin, they have the best car. So it's ultimately just the group of features that you have in your car that makes the lap time.”

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