In F1 the approach to race weekends is key. There are many aspects that I won‘t be dwelling on, given that I‘m lacking enough data and thorough knowledge on the car. As people know, it often occurs that the initial will and certain wishes have no place in reality.
I think that is the case, if we analyse Ferrari’s Saturday performance and refer to their strategy to improve their qualifying outcome. Charles lost confidence and his feeling with the car during FP3. Therefore, he requested and obtained a slight change, which was necessary to prepare for the following session. However, if striking a compromise ha perso “confidence” with the car. For this reason he requested and obtained a small change of program, necessary to take the measures for the next session. However, if in order to improve you have to penalise other aspects, I find it sincerely unfair to ask a driver for more than what we have already seen.
Leclerc on board analysis – 2021 Austrian GP: an introduction
At Ferrari it was decided to diversify the race strategies. Analyzing the behaviour of the car over the weekend, we came to the conclusion that Medium tyres could figure as an ideal compromise for the Monegasque, who is definitely more at ease with this compound. After the race, it became evident that the tactic could have proved successful only if managed in a better way.
Leclerc on board analysis – 2021 Austrian GP: first stint
The conversation kicks off with the usual reminder on pre-race procedures: pit limiter on, turbo engagement and to look for the so-called bite point. The first indication regarding the race comes when the engine is still switched off: Marcos asks to check the mapping of the differential at the centre of the turn, in order to make sure that the pre-set value corresponds to -2. Apart from the top ten, only Kimi Raikkonen mounts the white-banded Pirellis. This is the info that precedes the ignition of the engine. A single burnout accompanies Charles to the 12th slot on the starting grid. Everything is ready and Leclerc, as usual, adjusts his gloves to defuse the tension of that moment.
The traffic lights go out and, although the Ferrari driver’s race start is fantastic, he is joined by Ricciardo and Alonso at Turn 1. The Monegasque, however, keeps his foot down and enjoys excellent acceleration thanks to the tow of Vettel and Sainz. Prudence at the first braking point turns into aggression at the second. Leclerc extends the braking and throws himself into the inside of his former teammate. To avoid contact, Sebastian is forced to abruptly jolt to the left, making way for the Ferrari driver.
Charles’s impetuousness is managed by the German’s tactical intelligence: the “revenge” of the four-time world champion takes shape on the following straight. The Mercedes engine pushes the AMR21 to counterattack: the driver from Heppenheim takes the outside in turn 4 and the two cars cross trajectories. The car wrapped in the elegant British racing green displays excellent traction and throws itself to the right and closes the overtake in the final part of T1.
Not even 200 meters later, the race slows down. Ocon reports damage to the front suspension due to a close encounter with Giovinazzi. Bernd Mayländer takes the big group for a spin for two laps, useful to allow the marshalls to restore the conditions necessary for the restart. Under the Safety Car regime, the normal functions are carried out to better manage the warm up of the compounds and the temperatures of the brakes. Once the parameters have been reset, K2 overboost turned on, the race resumes. At the restart, Charles hunts Sebastian’s car down. Although the gap on the Aston Martin is significantly large to overtake, Leclerc, without thinking too much about it, swerves to the right and throws himself into the green car. The impetuousness of the maneuver causes a strong lock-up of the front right tyre. Again, Vettel is forced to correct his trajectory to avoid contact, but this time, unlike it happened at the start, the German maintains the position on his former teammate.
Disrupted in acceleration, off the kerb, car number 16 is overtaken by Ricciardo, able to take advantage of the indecision of the young talent from Monaco who, at the next corner, almost loses the car under braking. Leclerc therefore, on the fifth lap, finds himself out of the points zone in P11, behind Perez. The Mexican is only tenth after an excursion on the grass.
The race goes on frantically. Charles chases the Mexican down, but the engine extension of the Honda PU does not allow him to launch the attack. Three laps behind the RB16B turn into an alarming situation; Xavi opens on the radio asking to practice the lift and coast technique to cool the braking system. The measure works and five kilometers later the issue can be considered sorted. However, Charles notices abnormal behavior of the car under braking and wonders about any problems related to the brake balance. In this sense, the message “No brake issues” reassures the Ferrari driver. In the meantime, we switch to a race SOC mode, which is capable of supplying an amount of energy equal to, or slightly dissimilar to, that expenditure. The turbulence generated by the Red Bull race car is once again damaging the Ferrari, so the Spanish race engineer is again forced to intervene. He therefore ensures that brake temperatures are managed in the best possible way. At this stage, the tension is sky high. Overtaking and managing the car at the same time looks like a mission impossible.
At lap 15, after the first tyre phase update, it is time to react. The best way to sort out the issues generated by the Mexican ahead of Leclerc is to overtake him. The “ferrarista“ delivers what he and the team needs with a brilliant move between Turn 4 and 5, crossing trajectories after Checo defended the position on the straight. With P7 in the bag, Leclerc prepares the overtake on Ricciardo. Gluing himself to the diffuser of the MCL35M generates the same issue (linked to the working temperatures) that we mentioned before. Marcos reminds Charles about the importance of monitoring keeping all the values under control, and the Ferrari driver, other than Xavi recalls the importance of keeping values under control and the Ferrari driver is forced, in addition to making use of the lift and coast again, to widen the gap on the papaya-colored car for a couple of laps.
In the meantime, after recharging the batteries, they revert to a competitive SOC mapping. With 20 laps completes, the first message about the strategy finally comes. Marcos makes predictions about the stops of the competitors and asks for a front flap update. He establishes Plan A as the strategy they have to adopt. The Monegsque agrees and asks for more downforce on the front with two clicks on the wing during the pit stop. Perez follows the SF21 closely and struggles with the tow to the Ferrari. The second tyre phase update of the race comes a couple of minutes later. The importance of extending the first stint as much as possible increases. Through the Multifunction tool, the former Alfa Romeo driver receives some extra help on tyre management.
Lap 30. Ferrari calls Charles in to attempt the undercut on Ricciardo, who has just entered the third sector.
When the counter-order arrives, the Monegasque had already set the trajectory for the double turn leading to the main straight, proving that the only intent was to alarm the McLaren garage. Three corners later Marcos opens up on the radio again. The Spaniard asks how many laps Charles can still do on the current lap. Leclerc worries about Perez and predicts that on the track he will be overtaken by the rest. The Spanish engineer takes notes and reformulates the question about the pace, asking for three laps flat out. The Monegasque accepted the challenge, so much so that the following communication is: “All you can for three laps”. On the following lap the pit wall reveals the real intention: attempting the overcut on Ricciardo.
In the last of the three laps, the use of the toggle relating to the pre-mapped configurations to the brakes at curve 3 is suggested. While six corners later, finally, Charles is called in.
A slight delay on the front left does not affect the stop, which is successfully completed in 2.3s. With a brand new set of Hards, car number 16 is back on track. Summing up, the strategy of lengthening the first stint to take the position on Ricciardo. In addition, having stopped two laps early, Perez’s undercut on the Monegasque hits the mark. At lap 36, therefore, the SF21 is in tenth position with a gap of 2.5s over the Mexican of Red Bull.
Leclerc on board analysis – 2021 Austrian GP: second stint
Xavi gives good news, or at least tries to: “You can push to the end with these tyres”. The concentration of the Monegasque is maximum. Checo closely follows Ricciardo who, in turn, is at battling it out with Gasly. When switching to Soc 8 mode to maximize the hybrid, the will is clear: to take back the position on Perez. In vain for obvious reasons, the overwhelmingly thwarted attempt in curve 4 sends the Ferrari driver into a rage, who greets the driver aboard the number 11 with his middle finger. The comment on the radio is matched by such an ‘affectionate’ gesture: “What a dickhead!”
The slight contact between the front wing of the Ferrari and the right rear tyre of the Red Bull does not produce any consequences, fortunately. After a quick check carried out thanks to the car’s sensors, Marcos gives the green light to push again. Charles spends a lap recharging the batteries and then goes back to a more thrust Soc mode, while comes the judgment of the race direction: a 5-second penalty to Perez for the move against the red car. It is time to calm down and Leclerc starts to fight again. At the forty-seventh lap, after crossing the line, the Monegasque launches the attack on the outside of turn 6. The Mexican, however, not at all affected by the previous sanction, fights back and pushes the Ferrari race car off the track once again.
Charles is now furious and complains on the radio. Marcos tries to calm him down in the best possible way, reminding him of the penalty inflicted on the former Racing Point driver. But then the battle resumes, but this time, aware of the risks to which he is exposed, Leclerc’s approach is definitely calmer. The Ferrari driver watches for a while, until Ricciardo hands over the position to Checo who, in the meantime, receives an additional 5-second penalty. At this point, the need to overtake the Australian becomes primary. Perez, with a decidedly more competitive pace, opens up a gap on the McLaren and Charles, to stay within the 10-second gap necessary to gain the position, must necessarily get rid of the papaya-colored car. A few attempts to finalise the overtake, but the lunge does not arrive. Under pressure, the Monegasque’s tyres begin to lose effectiveness. You can easily see this by observing the behaviour of the red car in the third sector, then, if we add to this the correct and grim defense of Ricciardo, we understand why the coveted overtake for the Ferrari driver will remain only an unfulfilled desire.
Then, the Ferrari pit wall takes a decision, after the engineers realised that the chances of succeeding have significantly dropped. They decide to allow Sainz to have a shot at it. The Spaniard, who has a set of Mediums that are still working well, enjoys a better pace. Not letting him try to overtake the McLaren would go against the interests of the team itself. Leclerc accepts, but asks for one last attempt. His last failure precedes the switch, which comes at lap 66. Carlos passes, while a disappointed Charles mumbles something about the tyres.
The Monegasque’s race ends here, in eighth position. During the last laps, a second warning concerning track limits at turn 10 is issued. Then, there is just enough time to lubricate the engine with a specific command, modify the brake shape and brake balance (respectively by one point at the rear and one at front) and the checkered flag marks the end.
Analyzing the race coldly, with hindsight, it becomes evident that the strategy did not favor the #16 Ferrari. Delaying the pit stop and suffering the undercut from Perez’s Red Bull undermined Ferrari’s chances of proving its good form. In the last radio communication, you can hear the regret of what could have been and did not happen from Charles’ words. The Monegasque is also furious with the Mexican…
F1-Translation: Beatrice Zamuner – @ZamunerB