Parc Ferme: Mexico City revelations

Parc Ferme: Mexico City revelations

Parc Ferme: Mexican revelations

The Mexico City Grand Prix was rich. Rich in politics for Red Bull, hope if you’re a Mercedes fan, and dismay if you are a member of the Tifosi. However, it also lifted the technical veil off the various cars on the grid.

For most of the 2022 Formula 1 season, we have all been trying to work out the differences between the cars on track. Within a team, it’s easy: same car, different pilot, ergo, driver. Yes, there’s the setup but hey driver feedback kind of err, drives that one too.

Normally it is a multi-piece jigsaw where you try to interpret the technology, driver comments, and what you observe on track. Plus any data that falls into your lap outside of that which is in the public domain.

Mexico however presented us with a relatively controlled environment to assess three factors across the differing team chassis. In particular; engine, aero, and mechanical grip. All courtesy of course of the low air density.

Brmm, Brmm…

Let’s start with the engine. The speed trap normally provides us with the terminal velocity of the car on the longest straight. In Mexico, this happens to be the main straight and since the start/finish line speed is also recorded, we were able to observe a pattern.

Those at the top of one were almost always at the bottom of the other. This would suggest that those with the higher start/finish line speed were the quickest out of the last turn and probably ran more wing than those peaking at the speed trap.

The difference is in their respective drag. However, a team appearing at the top of both would either have a stonking engine, better mechanical grip or both.  Not a precise science I admit but there are no prizes for guessing where Red Bull where on both tables.

There are Klingons on the starboard bow…

The stonking engine rationale of Red Bull was further supported by what happened after the radio message sent to Max Verstappen early in the race by Christian Horner: “Monkey to Max, over.” – “Yes?” – “The organ grinder says you need to break the tow!” – “Roger that Monkey will stop looking for a parking space and engage warp engines”.

The Klompmeister then immediately ripped 2-3 tenths a lap out of Lewis Hamilton until returning to impulse speed once said tow had been broken.

The pen is mightier than the CAD program

Driver aside, nearly everyone has attributed the mercurial pace of the Red Bulls this year to superior aero. I have no doubts that this is a major contributing factor, but it is only part of the story.

All season I have watched Adrian Newey’s pen work navigate the tighter sections of circuits and marvelled at the way it so easily changes direction.

Sure, Max’s skill plays a big part in that, but you can see the car wants to comply. The Red Bull chassis is in a class of its own in terms of mechanical grip and balance. With its thin air, Mexico proved that they did not require their aero package to school the field. The win in Mexico was far more comfortable than they let on.

The W13 is also no slouch in this department. Freed from the burden of its pig-like aero, it showed that Mercedes do not have to put a match to the entire car at the end of the season.

More of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right

While Ferrari may match or even exceed the bulls in aero downforce, it is definitely underweight in the mechanical grip/front and rear balance department. Compared to the RB18, the rear of the F1-75 looks unpredictable at entry – something Charles Leclerc generally handles better than Carlos Sainz. However, in the faster sections, the back tyres appear to be stubborn on turn-in, having to be unwillingly dragged across the surface of the tarmac when the driver tries to rotate the car.

The issues surrounding Ferrari’s tyre degradation are well documented. Their brake cooling/rim heating arrangements are a contributing factor to the fronts. However, if the rear does not release when turning then they (the fronts) will have to work extra hard to drag the car through the corner.

My best guess is that Ferrari is unable to warm up the rears as fast as the fronts, making the car initially too pointy, and that the set-up for the rear is designed to provide stability. As a consequence, we would expect the car’s directional and stability performance to rapidly drop off in a race, together with the ability to put the power down at the corner exit. Remind anyone of anything?

On to Sao Paulo

Finally, we’re at Interlagos this weekend and a proper circuit again (sorry but Mexico put the M’s in Mickey Mouse). While the sprint might play out better for Ferrari, the feature race will be more of the same. That is unless Sergio Perez can find his fast-driving gloves.

Otherwise, Max will ask Lewis what his favourite colour is so he can paint the rear of his car and give him something to look at in the race. Meanwhile, we will be subjected to another rendition of the Dutch National anthem at the finish.