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.
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.
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.