Red Bull, the current leader with victories in all 10 grands prix, is a tough act to follow as Mercedes sits second halfway through the season. However, it’s been a turbulent journey, with the spot for the second-fastest team changing almost weekly.
Aston Martin surprisingly began the season holding that title, but recent weeks have seen a backslide, especially on high downforce tracks. Mercedes has been in the vicinity but also had its share of inconsistent weekends, even with the radical upgrades introduced in Monaco.
Ferrari has been another major player, but consistency has been a challenge for them, both between tyre stints and races. An upward trend in Austria was dashed with a less than stellar performance in Silverstone, where McLaren stepped into the spotlight due to a mid-season car revamp.
Red Bull’s lead is narrow enough that any upgrades could cause a noticeable shift in the race hierarchy. However, as Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur points out, the perplexing form trends in F1 2023 aren’t solely due to development warfare. There is much to gain from fine-tuning the set-up to fit individual circuits.
When asked by F1 Flow.com about the key factor in this season’s performances, Vasseur noted, “It’s not only about development, but also about weekend setup. Upgrades can shave off one or two tenths, but you can achieve more with the right setup and preparation.”
“We can’t upgrade the car every single week. Soon, we’ll have new parts, but looking back at the British Grand Prix weekend, I believe we could have better utilized the car we had,” Vasseur added.
According to Tom McCullough, Aston Martin’s performance director, variations in circuit characteristics also influence these ever-changing gaps. Teams are tasked with finding a ride height balance for the current generation of ground-effect cars to stay competitive.
Williams’ Dave Robson, whose team has shown significant progress recently, can’t quite account for some of the sudden performance changes, including McLaren’s bounce-back.
Compiling a hierarchy is further complicated by external factors like weather disturbances and race format changes, such as the three recent grand prix weekends affected by rain, the limited practice sprint weekend in Austria, and Pirelli’s introduction of a tougher tyre construction at Silverstone.
F1 Flow.com asked Robson about the confusion surrounding team performances. He responded, “There does seem to be a bit more variance that everyone struggles to explain. Recent weather events make it difficult to gather necessary data and compare our performance with others.”
While teams usually maintain their own development schedule, the fierce midfield competition has introduced a strategic component to the timing of rolling out new packages, as it could mean the difference between Q2 and Q3.
Robson added, “Offsetting of the upgrades is fascinating. It’s challenging to determine the optimal timing for introducing upgrades, as you ideally want to do so strategically in relation to others.”
“It’s difficult, but it’s a captivating challenge to observe different team reactions. The weather has possibly prevented teams from fully understanding or utilizing their upgrades, and they’ll have to make up for this in Hungary,” he concluded.