As per usual, the return to Europe saw Formula One teams bring many updates to their cars. The big three of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull brought packages that were aimed at maximising their strengths and removing their weaknesses
So now with five races done and all current updates in place, let’s take a look at what the pecking order is like at the pointy end of the grid.
Despite having taken a beating from Mercedes last weekend, the Maranello based team still have the fastest car on the grid.
This season, Ferrari have produced an extremely well-balanced car. The team’s latest update package constituted of longitudinal floor holes, a revised diffuser and a new upright suspension. However, the most notable change were the new wing mirrors with aerodynamic winglets.
— SUTTON IMAGES (@suttonimages) May 10, 2018
By mounting wing mirrors on the halo, the team improved airflow into their sidepods. But upon closer inspection, the FIA deemed the new mirrors a breach of regulations and come Monaco, Ferrari will no longer be allowed to run them.
The weekend got worse for the Prancing Horse, despite being model tyre heaters early on in the season, Ferrari struggled to heat up their super soft tyres causing the drivers to start the race from the second row of the grid.
Nevertheless, it is more than likely that the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is an exception rather than a norm. Ferrari have a malleable car that can adapt to more tracks than the Mercedes. If they keep up their early season form, it is very possible that they could end the season with two championship trophies – assuming they don’t self-implode again.
Coming into the Spanish Grand Prix, Mercedes were desperately hoping to make gains in their championship fight and boy did they ever. The Silver Arrows locked out the front row and came home to score a 1 -2 finish in the race.
Rather than a massive overhaul of their design, Mercedes stuck to their championship-winning strategy of bringing small updates to each race. At the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the German manufacturer made small but detailed changes to their front wing, suspension and diffuser. The team also added a guided vane on the front suspension which was rumoured to be worth a tenth of a second.
Merc detail pic.twitter.com/EuyqU60QQO
— Craig Scarborough (@ScarbsTech) May 10, 2018
After a lacklustre start to the season, Mercedes bounced back in Barcelona. However, the reigning world champions prevalent tyre struggles were masked by the cooler track temperatures and the numerous VSC periods.
Adding to the team’s woes, is the performance of the W09 relative to its rival’s cars when stuck in turbulent air. In clean air, the driver is able to build a gap to the rest of the pack. When stuck in traffic the W09 loses a significant amount of downforce especially from the front wing which then disrupts the delicate aerodynamics of the entire car.
Mercedes need to mitigate their problems if they want to consistently bring the fight to Ferrari but with warm temperatures and hyper soft tyres next time out in Monaco, Toto Wolff has already started to worry.
“Why our car doesn’t like to be quick around the corners in Monaco we haven’t found yet. As much as we are overwhelmed by the victory in Barcelona, my mind is already in Monaco and I remember Sunday night wasn’t as pleasant last year,” stated the Mercedes team principal.
“A reasonable update” was how Christian Horner described the revisions to the Red Bull for Barcelona, playing down suggestions that the changes were set to be so widespread that it would effectively constitute a ‘new’ car.
The changes on the RB14 included a revised engine inlet, a modified front wing, reshaped sidepods and a rearrangement of the barge boards.
Being down on power, Red Bull have run a high rake car since the start of the season to generate more underbody performance. Unfortunately, the moment they trim out the rear wing they are unable to match the level of downforce on the Ferrari.
To get around this issue, Red Bull added sawtooth claws on their floor which generated an increased amount of power to make the high rake concept of the RB14 more effective.
Aero rake on the RBR for FP1 pic.twitter.com/pl4VI5T5k0
— Craig Scarborough (@ScarbsTech) May 11, 2018
Red Bull expected “a couple of tenths” worth of lap-time improvement and their pace during free practice supported their expectations. However, on race day their pace seemed to disappear proving that Ferrari and Mercedes still have an edge on them.
“It was really really hard to get the full potential out of the car. It is positive signs but we need to make it (the car) a bit easier,” said Daniel Ricciardo after the Spanish Grand Prix.
"There is potential but it's hard to extract consistently, so we have some more to learn with this new package. I'm going to take positives from the potential we have. #Monaco should be our strongest circuit on raw pace. I'm looking forward to getting there." – @DanielRicciardo. pic.twitter.com/Mtgof2Qnrm
— Mobil 1 The Grid (@Mobil1TheGrid) May 15, 2018
Red Bull lost time in the first and second sectors at Barcelona but were the quickest team in the final Monaco like sector which bodes as we make our way to the crown jewel next.
To sum up, Ferrari still have the best package with Mercedes in second place and Red Bull in third. The prancing horses have the best combination of downforce and power, providing them with a much bigger operating window to get their tyres working properly.
The lack of a qualifying engine mode means that Red Bull are usually going to start the race from the second or third row which then makes scoring a victory much harder. The development war will continue till the end of the season but ultimately the team that that can best and most often get the tricky Pirelli tyres to work for them will reign supreme.