Ferrari’s Jekyll and Hyde season continued at the Hungarian Grand Prix as the team’s drivers finished over a minute off race winner Lewis Hamilton just one week after they had the pace to fight for victory Germany.
The dramatic swing in competitiveness from one weekend to the next would be surprising for any other team, but for Ferrari it is simply the reality of its 2019 season.
The problem is broadly understood and is rooted in the aerodynamic concept of this year’s SF90 car. On circuits where a high-downforce setup is required, Ferrari has consistently struggled this year whereas circuits that feature high-speed corners and long straights have been its forte.
Compared to Mercedes and Red Bull, Ferrari’s car simply doesn’t generate enough downforce in low-speed corners, which has a knock-on effect in trying to keep Pirelli’s sensitive tyres in the right operating window. As a result, the car looked competitive in Germany — bar reliability issues in qualifying — and was over a minute adrift at the chequered flag in Hungary.
“I think what we should try to explain is not the minute [to Hamilton] in Hungary, but how it is possible that just a week ago we had the fastest car, and today we are somehow not the fastest,” team boss Mattia Binotto said on Sunday evening in Hungary.
“Here, as we often say, is very track dependent. We know that our car is somehow lacking maximum downforce and when you are somehow on a circuit like Budapest where maximum downforce is required, then we are certainly suffering.
“You are suffering even more in the race compared to the quali, because in the single lap of the quali the grip of the tyres is masking the lack of downforce it may have, but over a long distance you are sliding, overheating the tyres and things are certainly more complicated.”
Ferrari recognised its weaknesses in the early rounds of the 2019 season and changed its development direction at the French Grand Prix to add more downforce without ditching the overall concept of the car. However, not all the updates have been successful and development has not been quick enough to halt Mercedes’ march towards sixth consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
The upcoming races in Spa-Francorchamps and Monza should suit Ferrari but will be followed by a return to a maximum-downforce circuit in Singapore. Binotto said his team would not give up on its 2019 car, but is well aware of the significant step needed for 2020.
“Obviously there are circuits where we are not running to the maximum downforce configurations, so in that case it will be different,” Binotto said. “Certainly we are seeking more downforce already on this current season and in the second half of the season we will put whatever max downforce we can on the car and the car next year will require even more.
“We know that our competitors as well are developing their cars for next year on more downforce, so we cannot consider the gap of today as the single target. It has to be more than that.”
Unlike the significant regulation changes for 2019, which led Ferrari towards its current aerodynamic concept, the technical regulations will not change for 2020. As a result Binotto is hopeful that developments this season will also benefit next year’s car.
“Should we concentrate [entirely] on next year’s car? I don’t think so. Not only, because having the same regulations next year whatever we can do this year will be a good benefit for next year’s car as well. There are still many races and, so far, no victory for Ferrari, so I think we have a goal and a target and I think we should do whatever we can to finish this season to do our best.”
On paper, Ferrari’s best chance of victory this year will come immediately after the summer break in Belgium and Italy. Both circuits require trimmed-back aero configurations and Ferrari’s power advantage, which has been worth as much as 0.5s on the straights this year, will also benefit the red cars.
“I think those races are more power-sensitive so we should certainly be more competitive there but there is nothing that is given,” Binotto said. “I think our competitors are all very strong and we try to challenge ourselves. I think the situation will be different to Budapest and we will try to prepare ourselves the best to seek the first victory.”