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Analysis
Formula 1 Italian GP

Ferrari's Italian GP boost: A one-off Monza special or genuine F1 progress?

Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur was left in no doubt that his squad’s pole position and valiant fight for victory at Formula 1’s Italian Grand Prix was its best weekend of the year.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Although ultimately Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc could do little to stop Red Bull roaring to another 1-2 finish, that they were at least able to battle wheel-to-wheel with F1's current benchmark squad was something to be proud of after a 2023 campaign that has had its fair share of frustrations.

But while Ferrari has returned to its Maranello base this week boosted by an emotional weekend in front of the delighted tifosi, there remains a great deal of intrigue about just what its Italian GP showing means going forward.

And the key question really is whether Ferrari's home showing was simply the result of having thrown the kitchen sink at shining on home turf, or whether it marked something more significant in its quest to make progress with its SF-23.

There is no denying that Ferrari pulled out all the stops for Monza.

While Red Bull steered clear of introducing a brand-new wing package for the ultra low-downforce track and opted for just a trimmed-out upper flap, Ferrari ran a bespoke Monza wing with a much flatter mainplane than teams would ordinarily choose with the current generation of cars.

It also elected to introduce brand-new power units for the weekend, knowing full well that fresh engines always deliver a bit more oomph.

There were even whispers in the paddock that Ferrari had done the equivalent of turning them up to 11 in a bid to squeeze every last bit of horsepower out of them, but this was something Vasseur denied.

"We didn't take more risks than Zandvoort," he said.

The end result was Ferrari's most competitive outing of the year, as the squad maximised the opportunity thrown at it that the SF-23 seems to be much more competitive at the lower downforce venues.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

When the wing levels drop away – such as at tracks like Austria, Montreal, Canada and Spa-Francorchamps – then the Ferrari is much better relative to the opposition than at high-downforce venues. It stops being as peaky and that allows the drivers to gain a bit more confidence too.

This has been proved by the rollercoaster of form that Ferrari has endured in the back-to-back weekends at Zandvoort and Monza. From crashing as a result of a nervous car one weekend, to being able to battle wheel-to-wheel on the limit the next.

The low-downforce boost supports the view that Ferrari's Italian GP success may well be a one-off, as when the wing levels pop back up again for Singapore and Japan then it will shuffle back down the order as Mercedes and Aston Martin again push on as Red Bull's main opposition.

But while Vasseur joked on Sunday night that perhaps the best way forward was to just keep the low-downforce configuration everywhere, he is quietly confident that the trend of 2023 may soon be broken.

He suggests that a lot of work that took place over the Dutch GP weekend has helped open up some new set-up directions that could well help Sainz and Leclerc continue to shine at the higher downforce venues.

"We did a good test in Zandvoort to try to understand the situation," he said when asked by Motorsport.com about the high-downforce struggles. "But to understand, it's one thing and to fix it, it's another one. But at least we are trying to have a better understanding of the situation."

In fact, Vasseur claims that its running in FP1 in the Dutch GP was different to normal, in that it was devoted totally to testing and understanding the car rather than being typically focused on specific race weekend preparations.

"You may remember that we made a couple of tests in FP1 and we sacrificed the FP1 for testing," added Vasseur.

"It was for us to collect data to have a better vision of the situation. Now the next step is to fix it. It is clear also that we don't have a lot of track time to do steps, but at least to understand the problem is a step forward."

Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal and General Manager, Scuderia Ferrari

Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal and General Manager, Scuderia Ferrari

Photo by: Erik Junius

Ferrari clearly understand the factors at play in the varied form of the SF23, even if the squad is keeping things close to its chest.

Leclerc's driver coach Jock Clear said at Monza that he wouldn't reveal any details about what is going on, but suggests Ferrari's knowledge is quite advanced. And it's not just a case of the car being quick on the straights.

"From a trackside point of view, we've understood from those previous races that there are conditions in which this car is competitive all the way around the track," said Clear.

"Even if you look at Austria, or look at Spa, it wasn't like we were only competitive on the straights, or we were just managing the hang on around the corners. We were competitive everywhere.

"And that's what you saw [in Monza]. We were competitive in the corners, where normally we would really struggle, like Turn 11. So, it is a different animal here. I think we understand quite a lot of that. But I'm not going to share it with you."

Key now though is whether all that knowledge of the SF-23's low-downforce brilliance, and high-downforce struggles, can be applied to deliver what's needed to shine at forthcoming venues.

Clear thinks there are some direct lessons from Monza – such as the way the team put the car in the window to attack kerbs better – that will help at the next tracks.

"One of the things you do get here [in Italy] is a really good grip on your mechanical balance," he said.

"The kerb riding has been really good, because we worked on that for this event, and I think we can carry that forward. But I think we're just going to take each race at a time."

Despite a step forward in confidence though, there is no illusion from Ferrari about matching its Monza form everywhere, especially at maximum downforce venues like Singapore.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Erik Junius

But Clear thinks that there is now a better chance for Ferrari to get more out of the SF-23 at the venues where it has the best potential, and Las Vegas looks like being a super low-downforce venue.

"We know this animal quite well now," he said. "There will be races later on in the year where we feel we're going to be much more competitive, and they will be the ones where you're not going to be running maximum downforce.

"We are going to Singapore at maximum downforce though. But it's not like we're just going to give up on Singapore, because there's a lot we can do learning from Zandvoort about what we need to do with the car in Singapore.

"But that said, it's not going to be a race we're going to go to and look at this level of performance straightaway - unless we make some big improvements!"

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