Why Ferrari’s pace may flatter to deceive, and teams face a tricky tyre decision

2022 Spanish Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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There is no track teams and drivers know as intimately as the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on the southern coast of Spain.

As the most popular testing venue of the last 20 years, it’s rare that the Spanish Grand Prix throws up surprise results – 2012 aside – given how finely tuned car set ups will be after multiple days of pre-season testing and thousands of virtual laps completed in simulators.

But the 2022 edition of this race promises to be the most volatile race weekend in Barcelona for some time due to a myriad of factors that revealed themselves after the first day of running on Friday.

That conclusion may not be obvious judging on the lap times alone. Charles Leclerc and Ferrari set the pace in practice as they have done so many times throughout the opening rounds of the season. After Leclerc finished first practice three tenths of a second faster than championship rival Max Verstappen, he followed it up by being quicker in second practice than the Red Bull by an identical margin (0.336s).

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
Red Bull’s long run pace pleased Verstappen
Despite being slower than both Ferraris in both Friday sessions, Verstappen seemed happy with his day’s work and how the Red Bull appeared to perform over the 55 laps he completed around the Barcelona circuit over the course of the day. Especially given that he had the fastest average lap time on the long runs at the end of second practice out of the Red Bulls, Ferraris and Mercedes.

“Overall it’s been a good day,” Verstappen said. “The long runs look positive, so we can be happy with that.”

With Juri Vips concentrating on aerodynamic mapping during his hour behind the wheel of Sergio Perez’s car in the morning, Perez says he will carry out more low-fuel runs in the final practice session on Saturday morning to help him be fully prepared for what could be a crucial qualifying battle against Ferrari.

“I was able to get a read on the long runs and hopefully overnight I can find the time I need to be in contention for the fight for pole,” Perez said. “I will do some extra work on low fuel in the morning during FP3 to see which direction to take, but we are confident we know.”

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Red Bull’s optimism explains why Leclerc seemed more cautious than might have been expected, given that he was the fastest in both sessions. “Our qualifying runs don’t look bad, but we have some work to do, in particular on our race pace and on tyre management,” Leclerc explained after Friday’s running.

After two rounds in a row with a small but still significant straight line speed disadvantage over the Red Bulls, Ferrari attempted to counter by running different rear wing configurations on Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr’s cars in the opening practice session. While Ferrari will have to wait until qualifying to see for sure how their maximum speed compares with their rivals, the fact both Leclerc and Verstappen both reached a top speed of 315km/h at the end of the main straight on their fastest laps of the day is not a bad sign for the Scuderia.

George Russell, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
Mercedes seem to have finally found some pace
One interesting difference about this weekend for Red Bull and Ferrari, however, is that Verstappen was not the one closest to Leclerc on Friday. Instead, the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton sat second and third, one and two tenths respectively off Leclerc’s best time. Having introduced a wealth of upgrades to the W13 for this sixth round to counter the handling difficulties of the first five, trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin seemed satisfied by the initial results they had seen on track.

“It’s been a solid start to the weekend,” Shovlin said. “The car is behaving more normally here in Barcelona.

“We’ve made progress on reducing the bouncing with this aero update and the pace looks to be a step forward; not quite at the level of Red Bull and Ferrari but we’ve hopefully pulled ourselves out of the midfield group. We’ll be running in the simulator in Brackley tonight, trying to find a bit more time in the car but at least we have a good platform to base this on and hopefully we can find a little bit more to carry into tomorrow.”

As well as the factory Mercedes team enjoying the benefits of updated cars, two of Mercedes’ power unit customers – McLaren and Aston Martin – also introduced major revisions to their cars on Friday. It may not have been reflected in the times – with Daniel Ricciardo 15th and Lando Norris in 20th and last after damaging his floor and having to sit out most of second practice while it was repaired – but Ricciardo is confident more performance is yet to come from the team’s new modifications to the MCL36.

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“Right now, there’s still a lot to take in so I’m not too sure how much to look into the times today,” said Ricciardo.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
An off-track excursion for Norris hindered McLaren’s progress
“We clearly aren’t where we want to be on the time sheets but there’s a lot to dive into tonight. I think we’ll find some things and, let’s say, find the optimal set up for tomorrow and hopefully that puts us inside the top 10.”

McLaren’s Andrea Stella has no concerns Norris’s pace for the rest of the weekend will be compromised by damaging his new-specification floor. “We needed to stop his programme early, after we picked up some damage running over a kerb,” Stella explained, “but we can repair that overnight.”

Aston Martin’s revised package has been by far the most eye-catching among the paddock – if only for the striking resemblance the AMR22 now has to the Red Bull RB18. But with the FIA brushing aside Red Bull’s insinuations over its legality, Sebastian Vettel showed some promise by ending Friday eighth in the times.

“It feels like we are moving in the right direction,” said Vettel. “But we must remember that this is the first day of our running this car.

“You cannot make many comparisons to pre-season testing because the weather and track conditions are so different, so there is still a lot to learn and understand. We do not expect immediate results, but we want to continue to make progress.”

Ahead of his first Spanish Grand Prix in front of his home fans for four years, Fernando Alonso will have excited the thousand who will flock to the circuit tomorrow by being in the top six for both Friday sessions. But despite Alonso’s best single lap putting him ahead of one of the Red Bulls, in sixth, Alpine’s chief technical officer Pat Fry insists the team was focused on their race pace.

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“We’re looking reasonably competitive on single-lap pace, as we have been recently,” Fry said, “but we have been concentrating on experiments to improve our long run pace and have plenty of data to work through this evening.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
Teams may limit qualifying runs to stock up on harder tyres
“It’s been a key area of focus for us at the moment and we’re trying different things to further improve our pace on that front. The upgrades we’ve brought to this race are relatively small steps but, they all count, they are functioning well, and we’re happy with those so far this weekend.”

There is one more important factor heading into qualifying – the weather.

With hot temperatures expected across the weekend, the high levels of tyre stress through sustained cornering loads around the circuit mean that degradation appears to be much higher than expected, with the soft tyres losing grip halfway around the lap when pushed due to overheating.

As Pirelli’s Mario Isola explains, the high tyre wear could lead to teams having to be very careful about the tyre sets they choose to use in the third and final practice session.

“This morning, the majority was using one set of hards, one set of softs – so they returned one and one,” Isola explained. “In the afternoon, they were using one set of mediums, one set of softs – again, one and one.

“For tomorrow, they have to decide if they want to save five sets of softs for qualifying, but that means they have to give back after FP3 one set of mediums – because clearly they have to keep at least one set of hards. Or, they can try to keep two sets of mediums, but then qualifying with only four sets of softs. That’s the decision for tomorrow.”

With one more hour of practice to go until qualifying locks teams into parc ferme conditions, there will be a lot more still to learn tomorrow about what could be a very stressful Sunday for drivers and their teams’ strategists.

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Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
116Charles LeclercFerrari1’19.8281’19.67056
263George RussellMercedes1’20.5901’19.7870.11755
344Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’20.8111’19.8740.20452
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’19.9071’19.9900.23758
51Max VerstappenRed Bull1’20.1641’20.0060.33655
614Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’20.7681’20.2030.53349
711Sergio PerezRed Bull1’20.6320.96230
85Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’22.1641’20.7031.03351
931Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’21.8911’20.7451.07553
1047Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’22.1461’20.7571.08746
1110Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’21.4221’20.9171.24751
1220Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’22.0891’21.0131.34340
1318Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.9201’21.2491.57954
144Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’21.2791’23.3881.60930
1522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’21.8141’21.2851.61557
163Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’21.7371’21.3851.71545
1777Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’22.6141’21.8282.15828
1824Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.8662.19629
1988Robert KubicaAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.9752.30520
2023Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’22.3192.64931
2145Nyck de VriesWilliams-Mercedes1’22.9203.25028
226Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’23.0111’23.1973.34152
2336Juri VipsRed Bull1’24.1384.46823

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2022 Spanish Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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8 comments on “Why Ferrari’s pace may flatter to deceive, and teams face a tricky tyre decision”

  1. Ferrari’s race pace in FP2 looked really awful. On his medium long run, Leclerc was about 0.7 off Verstappen (average of best 5 laps during the stint), while Sainz’s runs didn’t look much better either. Carlos’ best 5-lap-average on the softs was still 0.2 off Verstappen’s medium run and that’s without counting the final few laps with big degredation on the softs.
    I wonder if Ferrari might haven gone the wrong way in terms of race setup between FP1 and 2, because their long run pace at the end of FP1 looked much better, meaning faster and more consistent. Both Ferrari drivers were lapping at an average pace of 1:25.6 (5 laps) on the softs in FP1, while dropping to a 1:25.8 (Sainz, soft) and 1:26.3 (Leclerc, medium) in FP2 (also best 5 laps of the stint).
    The quick times from the Mercedes drivers might be a little bit of a false dawn again. Their long runs looked solid, but certainly not spectacular. They were also much quicker through the timing beams of S2 and 3 than Verstappen and Leclerc on their low fuel runs. Hamilton was 9 kph faster than Leclerc and Verstappen at the end of S2, while Russell was 7 kph faster than Verstappen over the finish line (end of the lap) and 10 kph faster than Leclerc. This suggests they were using either more engine mode or running less fuel, because the Mercedes PU isn’t better than the Ferrari or Honda. I doubt Mercedes will fall as far back as they did in Miami, but I reckon they are still going to be some 0.3-0.5 down on the pole time. For Mercedes’ sake I hope their pace is real this time.
    The midfield seems very hard to read. The Alpine looked pretty decent on shorter and longer runs, while Bottas’ lap on the mediums before his engine problem looked promising. Seb’s and Gasly’s runs didn’t look to shabby either. Haas were surprisingly quick on their shorter runs (Mick Schumacher was just 0.05 down on Vettel), but didn’t look very fast on a heavier fuel load. There is no doubt that Williams once again has the slowest car. Albon will struggle to make it out of Q1 and I’d be surprised if Latifi can qualify higher than P19.

    1. @srga91
      Giorgio Piola said that Ferrari went for a low downforce set up which explains why they had tyre degradations issues and why they were also up in top speed.

      1. Thanks, @tifoso1989 :)
        Ferrari seemed to have corrected that mistake by FP3, because Leclerc’s long runs on the softs were much better than yesterday. Charles was lapping between 1:24,6 and 1:25,7 – average lap time 1:25,36. That’s a full second(!) faster than his average from yesterday on the mediums.
        Whatever the problems were yesterday (I doubt it was just the downforce level), they are back on the pace which is great news for us Tifosi :)

        1. @srga91
          Thanks again for the detailed explanation. Indeed, it’s great news for the Tifosi. Forgot to add the link to the Piola discussion. Motorsport Italia Youtube Channel are doing a great job creating content with detailed analysis and thorough explanations and you cannot have a better journalist explaining the technical aspect of F1 than Giorgio Piola.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlaXBCOEl8o

  2. I have said this after winter testing I’ve said it a couple months ago and then last month and I’ll say it again. Ferrari is at best 3rd quickest, they always start the seasons ready but the performance ceilling of RB and Merc is higher. Ferrari’s best chances are Spain and Monaco.

  3. I think this quali is going to be like a new start of the season, considering the volume of changes to the cars.
    Hopefully Merc get in there with RB and Ferrari, and we get a six car race for the win/podium.
    Most hopefully, however, nobody gets a clear advantage across the board, and the fastest car keeps changing according to track prefferance.

  4. You left a placeholder text at the top of the page: PASTE PACE CHART HERE AND ADD LAP TIMES BELOW

  5. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    21st May 2022, 10:06

    Not to mention Barcelona has always been a weird one, track-wise. It has 3 very different sectors, tyres are either used up halfway through or saved in the first half and then used and the track has barely any long straights where power can make a big difference.

    I’m expecting Mercedes to fall back when we visit tracks with proper straights again seeing as straights are where they bounced like a nightclub before. My guess is Red Bull took a lesson from Mercedes-playbook from the last decade: you can win more races by focussing on power than you can win by having more downforce. Sure, they might lose out on Barcelona, Monaco, Zandvoort and Hungary, but there are many more proper tracks with straights coming up. Ferrari won’t have anything to fight with come their homerace, Spa, Silverstone, Brazil, Mexico, Baku, Yas Marina and the Red Bull Ring. Yolu may lose a fight, but the war is in their favor.

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