Red Bull wins another race at Yas Marina while Ferrari, despite Charles Leclerc’s second place, has to concede to Mercedes in the battle for the second position in the constructors’ championship. For just three points, the silver arrows confirm themselves as the second force in the championship, despite the fact that the Maranello team performed significantly better than the Brackley team in the second half of the season.
The race ended with one car per team on the podium, providing an almost accurate picture of the values in the field seen this weekend. It can be useful and interesting to review the last weekend of the three teams and analyze the various sessions to understand how they set up the work that culminated in Sunday’s podium.
Abu Dhabi GP 2023/Friday: Few laps and a lot uncertainty, Ferrari SF-23 on long runs, Red Bull and Mercedes study the setup on the push lap
The first day of free practice was undoubtedly one of the most unusual of the season: FP1 saw ten young drivers take the place of the regulars, with Red Bull even leaving both cars to Jake Dennis and Isack Hadjar. Mercedes and Ferrari kept only one of their top drivers on the sidelines, with Vesti and Shwartzman replacing colleagues Hamilton and Leclerc.
In addition to the turnover, the session took place as usual with the sun still shining, despite FP2, qualifying, and the race taking place at night. The feedback collected in the first session leaves something to be desired, even though Russell finished at the top with a good margin over the second. Sainz, seventh, spent much of the session validating the setup studied in Maranello, avoiding seeking performance. The two Red Bulls finished in a nondescript sixteenth and seventeenth place.
As the sun set, the green light for the second practice session turned on, where teams had only about twenty minutes out of the sixty available: first, due to a bump, Carlos Sainz loses control of his SF-23 through turn three, hitting the barriers and causing a long red flag. Then it’s Hulkenberg’s turn, who collides with the Haas wall at the exit of turn 1, causing a new interruption.
In the remaining time, the teams tried to maximize every remaining second of the session: the work program therefore included a study on the qualifying pace, with Leclerc ahead of Norris and Verstappen in the final standings, while only some, including Ferrari, decided to try another flying lap at the expense of the usual Friday long runs.
Thus, the first day of free practice ends with almost total uncertainty: Ferrari seems to have started on the right foot, especially through Charles, since even the race pace on mediums seemed undoubtedly good. Red Bull, unusually delayed but still in the mix, did not dedicate time to high-fuel testing. Finally, Mercedes on the edge of the top 10, with some positive signs in the medium tire long runs.
Abu Dhabi GP 2023/Saturday: Ferrari and Red Bull make the difference thanks to Verstappen and Leclerc
During FP3, several teams dedicated a good chunk of the available time to simulate the race pace, both to complete the feedback obtained the day before and to obtain new ones. For the rest, the tests on the red tire again indicate Russell as the fastest, with Leclerc in fifth, Verstappen only sixth, and their respective teammates outside the top ten.
For the Dutch champion, the session was perhaps one of the most tense of the year, so much so that he requested significant changes to the setup twice. A first modification was made to the ride heights, while the second saw Red Bull mechanics working on the front anti-roll bar. Generally, in FP3, the setup is already defined. It is unusual to see Max overhaul the setup before the official sessions.
Qualifying provides surprises right from Q1: Carlos Sainz fails to make the cut and has to settle for sixteenth place. In Q2, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton is excluded, finishing eleventh. Q3 delivers the pole position to Max Verstappen for the twelfth time, ahead of a splendid Leclerc who set a phenomenal lap. In the second row, Norris and Russell, while Perez disappoints again, finishing ninth.
A closer look at the fast laps of the fastest drivers in their respective teams shows that the Red Bull RB19 is generally the car with the most performance. We are talking about something that is not surprising at all considering the entire season. However, the difference, at least on a single lap, is not so pronounced:
In none of the three sectors does the RB19 make a clear difference; nevertheless, some choices made by the drivers, combined with the intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of the cars, determined the final gaps: Charles Leclerc, for example, loses 62 milliseconds in the first sector and 92 in the second, only to gain 15 in the third. Everything seems paradoxical considering the known setup of the SF-23, namely a car that is super efficient on straights but with significant limitations in fast corners.
Yet Charles Leclerc recovers almost half of the final gap in the first sector, which essentially has only one corner, while, surprisingly, he gains in the guided section where Ferrari generally defends itself but certainly does not excel compared to the RB19. How can this behavior be explained? The idea is that Charles tried to manage the tire as best as possible during the lap, pushing a little less in the first and second sectors and giving everything in the third.
Russell, on the other hand, has a car with more downforce that manages the tires better, an aspect that allowed them to attack in every sector, so much so that his T1 is the second-best overall, while T3 is at the top of the timesheets in that sector. However, the limits of the Mercedes are evident on the straight, and it is not surprising that in the section composed of two straights interspersed with a low-speed chicane, T2, the W14 loses 0.342s to Verstappen and 0.250 to Leclerc.
Abu Dhabi GP 2023/Sunday: Ferrari “holds on” with Mediums, Red Bull escapes with Hards
The race was once again dominated by Max. Although there are not many points of reflection, they are still worth analyzing. The first run was almost entirely on medium tires for most, except for a few drivers who chose the hard compound. Verstappen maintained the lead by setting his own pace, which, similar to Las Vegas, was not incredibly faster than everyone else.
The reason is clear in this regard: the Dutchman could manage his car without accessing that extra performance in the pocket. It wasn’t necessary, in other words. For this reason, Leclerc, Russell, and partly also the McLarens, could withstand the pace and keep themselves at a close distance from the talent of Hasselt. The table below shows the values of the average pace maintained in the first stint with the yellow-banded Pirellis:
It is evident that the SF-23 particularly likes the medium tire, a situation that also occurred in Las Vegas and Brazil with Carlos Sainz. This means that by fitting the softer compounds that facilitate warm-up and maintenance of the optimal temperature window, Ferrari showed a performance very close to Red Bull. The consistency in terms of laps is also good, so much so that Leclerc stayed within a gap of around 2 seconds for sixteen laps.
Further back were the Mercedes of Russell and the two McLarens, despite the multiple overtakes and counter-overtakes that characterized their early race. The second and third stints saw everyone on the Hards. From here onwards, as happened a week earlier in Nevada and many other times this season, Red Bull gradually lit up, digging a significant gap.
Once again, the tables related to the race pace of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023 can help visually summarize what has been said. This time there are two graphics available since, as mentioned, the sections of the race that saw the various cars equipped with the white-banded Pirellis were two, despite the strategy envisaging a single pit stop:
2nd Stint 2 – Hard
To better frame the Red Bull dominance with the harder compound of the range, we have also reported Perez’s race pace, very close in both phases to his teammate. It is clear that the RB19 prefers stiffer tires, a sign that the car is equipped with excellent mechanical grip that masks the lower grip offered by the harder compound.
On the contrary, Ferrari, but also Mercedes, struggles to activate the cover and extract grip in slow-speed corners, thus paying the significant gap in terms of several tenths per lap. The effect of fuel consumption lap after lap only widens the performance gap, as evidenced by the table related to the last stint.
To conclude, a couple of reflections on the margins of today’s writing: during the 2023 racing campaign, Red Bull was always unbeatable. The Abu Dhabi race is just another confirmation of a more than perfect season. Only a momentary slip in Singapore avoided a notebook marked by only Dutch or Mexican victories, but for the rest, there was little to do against this package.
Rivals, Mercedes and Scuderia Ferrari above all, but why not, also Aston Martin in the first part of the season and McLaren in the second, show how much work needs to be done to try to close the gap on the Austrian team. All in the hope that the F1 “genius” Adrian Newey does not design another hyper-uranic aero-mechanical engineering masterpiece. In about three months, we will know more…
Source: Formula Uno Analisi Tecnica website