A Tale of Ferrari and Williams – Styrian GP Qualifying

This weekend’s qualifying for the Styrian GP (aka Austrian GP part 2) was thrown a dose of excitement by Mother Nature. If you haven’t seen racing in the rain before, know that it’s typically a performance equalizer and it’s where driver talent really comes through. It was an exciting qualifying session and the rain delay was well worth it. The two stories this week are Ferrari and Williams:

George Russell and Williams

George Russell prepares for qualifying at the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix
George Russell prepares for qualifying at the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix

Holy hell. Williams out of Q1! They nearly got out last weekend but this weekend they performed solidly and Russell got that Williams all the way up to P12! They out qualified much better cars – Racing Point, AlphaTauri, Haas, and Alfa Romeo. Latifi, I believe, also would have gotten out of Q1 had it not been for the session being red flagged just before his final lap. His lap prior also suffered due to a yellow flag – remember you must slow under yellow. Overall a fantastic day for Williams.

Ferrari is screwed

Oh boy. I wrote last week that they looked like they were in a bad situation, and I think this weekend confirms it. They qualified worse this week than they did last week. (7th and 11th last week, 10th and 11th this week.) Ferrari are down on engine performance and given that rain is a performance equalizer they may have much larger problems with their car than just engine power. LeClerc is certainly a good driver and Vettel is also experienced in the rain. That they couldn’t place the car higher than 10th is very telling.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the Styrian Grand Prix

I wrote last week that Ferrari were going to be battling with McLaren, Racing Point, and Renault. You can now add AlphaTauri to that list as Gasly had a fantastic qualifying and stuck his car on P8. 

Perhaps Ferrari’s race will be better than qualifying, however if you’re a Ferrari fan I wouldn’t get your hopes up. They are well and truly screwed.

Race Day

The forecast for tomorrow looks good – no rain as far as I can tell. This should make things interesting for sure. With the Ferraris out of place – again – can they gain places? Sainz is on 3rd – can McLaren convert that to another podium? Norris placed 6th however he has a 3 place grid penalty for overtaking under yellow flags during Free Practice 1 yesterday. Esteban Ocon also quietly put his Renault at P5 so we’ll see what he can do as well now that last weekend knocked the rust off for him.

Should be an exciting race and I can’t wait! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter as I’ll be live-tweeting tomorrow’s race as well.

Austrian GP Qualifying – Where Was Ferrari?!

While Mercedes was on their usual form locking out the front row in Austria for the race tomorrow, the big story really is, “Where was Ferrari?” Aside from incidents where a mechanical issue prevented Seb from making Q3, he’s never missed making it to Q3 while at Ferrari. His team mate – Charles LeClerc – didn’t fare much better making it into Q3 however merely placing P7. 

ferrari sebastian vettel formula 1 f1

To make matters worse, if you compare lap times from last year and this year, Ferrari have lost nearly a full second of pace. Meanwhile, Racing Point have gained nearly a second in comparison. 

What’s more, other Ferrari powered cars – Alfa Romeo and Haas – have also significantly lost time compared to last year’s Austrian GP lap times. 

Steady Regulations

Keep in mind that the aerodynamic regulations haven’t significantly changed between last year and this year. This type of slow down would be normal during a large shift in regulations. For instance new tire compounds, new aerodynamics rules, or engine format changes. When evolving a car design year on year you don’t get slower – you get faster.

What does this all boil down to? In my mind, whatever it was that the FIA and Ferrari were involved in last year that resulted in a confidential settlement, Ferrari’s Power Unit was absolutely illegal under the rules. The FIA figured it out, had Ferrari nailed dead to rights, and made them change it. 

I’d posit that it was significantly illegal enough that they’ve had to roll back a large amount of progress on their Power Units and thus you’re now seeing Alfa Romeo 1.1 seconds slower than last year. Engine customer teams get the same exact software and engine maps as the factory teams so it’s not like they are getting less out of the engines than the factory team.

Lost Progress For Ferrari

A second slower is not a small amount of progress lost. It’s said teams will spend $10M to find a tenth of a second. Today’s qualifying dealt Ferrari a $100M blow in development on the cusp of spending regulations set to come in next season. (Have a listen to the Pre-Austrian GP news episode for more on the spending cap.)

We’ll see what happens during tomorrow’s race, but I don’t expect Ferrari to be anywhere near a podium position. If qualifying is any indication of race pace, they’ll be scrapping with Racing Point, Renault, and McLaren rather than Red Bull and Mercedes. Personally I’m hoping Lando Norris has a cracker of a race and somehow gets that podium’s 3rd step.

2020 is definitely very weird.