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PACE DEBRIEF: Ferrari lacks almost half a second to Red Bull

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Following two dominant years, Red Bull are still the field-leading team, but Ferrari have edged a bit closer to the reigning world champion outfit for this year. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó reviews the two teams’ relative performance after the opening quarter of the 2024 season.

Red Bull’s RB20 has been the field-leading machine so far this season with Ferrari and McLaren having posed the biggest threat to the Milton Keynes-based outfit so far this season. The Italian and the British outfit capitalized on the opportunities in Australia and Miami respectively to secure surprise victories.

In Melbourne, Verstappen was forced to retire early on due to brake-related issues which handed Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz the opportunity to steal a sensational, dominant victory ahead of his team-mate Charles Leclerc.

The opening part of the Miami round saw Verstappen control proceedings, albeit not in a dominant fashion, as he usually does. A mid-race safety car period then helped McLaren’s Lando Norris take over the lead, and with Verstappen being on used tyres, he had no answer to his rival’s pace. However, in both races, Ferrari and McLaren had genuine pace and looked strong all through the weekend.

In the opening round in Bahrain, Max Verstappen grabbed pole position with a lap of 1m29.179s, albeit it was Charles Leclerc to record the absolute quickest qualifying lap in Q2 with a lap time that was 14 thousands of a second faster than what the Dutchman managed in Q3.

It means that Ferrari was the overall fastest car in qualifying in Manama. However, the pecking order has significantly changed for the race with Red Bull able to keep the tyres in a very good window and shape, which meant that the gap has increased to almost half a second per lap in favour of Red Bull.

In Round 2, there was not a huge swing in performance between the two teams. Max Verstappen claimed the pole in Jeddah with a time of 1m27.472 with Ferrari’s Leclerc taking second just three tenths of a second adrift. The three-tenth difference slightly increased to four and half a tenth of a second in the race.

In Australia, Carlos Sainz was Verstappen’s closest challenger once again, but the Dutchman had a two-tenth margin over the Spaniard in qualifying. However, the practice sessions indicated that Ferrari might pose a bigger threat to Red Bull in race trim. Verstappen’s early retirement from the race did not allow confirming this perception, and Perez’s lack of pace suggested that the Scuderia would have had a genuine chance of beating the reigning world champion team in Melbourne.

The pace delta was extremely tight between Red Bull and Ferrari. Sainz was the leading Ferrari in qualifying, but he was almost four tenths of a second adrift of Verstappen’s benchmark. Interestingly, Japan was the first grand prix of the season where Ferrari’s deficit to Red Bull race slightly smaller in the race than in qualifying.

The Chinese Grand Prix led to a frighteningly big pace difference between Ferrari and Red Bull. Leclerc was the quickest of the Ferrari drivers, but was over six tenths of a second adrift of Verstappen’s benchmark. Interestingly, that enormous gap increased further in the race by a further two tenths of a second. The Shanghai round turned out to be Ferrari’s worst race performance-wise in the opening part of the pace.

In Miami, the fluctuation in pace difference between the two teams was even smaller than in Japan, albeit it was a much more promising round for Ferrari. Leclerc was the leading Ferrari driver again, ending the qualifying session one and half a second off Verstappen. However, the 57-lap race saw Ferrari close even more in on Red Bull, cutting the deficit down to just a tenth of a second per lap.

Considering the best qualifying lap times of Ferrari and Red Bull in the first six main qualifying sessions, the Scuderia has lacked 0.305 seconds to the Milton Keynes-based outfit so far.

When it comes to race pace, only five of the opening six races can be taken into consideration, as Verstappen did not complete the Australian Grand Prix following his early retirement. Disregarding the Melbourne round, the gap has been 0.442 seconds between Red Bull and Ferrari.

The qualifying and race pace deficit clearly show a trend and two contrasting targets of Red Bull and Ferrari. While the Anglo-Austrian team put their focus completely on race pace last year, which saw them lose the pole position on several occasions, Red Bull’s target has been to increase their outright pace in qualifying mode. In turn, it has lead to a slight loss when it comes to race performance, albeit they still enjoy a considerable gap in race conditions.

By contrast, Ferrari have been desperate to improve their tyre management and their race pace. The Scuderia have successfully achieved their goals by changing critical aerodynamic solutions on their 2024 car, but the change in approach also meant that they have lost outright speed in relation to Red Bull.

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