The new generation of ground effect cars has delivered several surprises this year, and teams have often fared much worse than expected at grands prix where expectations were higher.
But we’ve also seen the other side of the coin, where sometimes teams find that their performance far exceeds what they had anticipated.
Ferrari are looking for answers for that quirk this year, as they struggled a lot at Spa-Francorchamps but then were much stronger at Monza, despite both tracks requiring low downforce and good aero efficiency .
Jock Clear , the Cavallino’s chief performance engineer, confesses that not even his team’s best engineers have a clear explanation for why there has been such mixed performance.
“Honestly, if we really knew those things, we would have the golden bullet,” he said. “It’s really complicated to figure these things out.”
“You talk to teams that are finding really good performance in a race, and you talk to teams that have regressed, and there’s a mystery to unravel all of this. That’s why this job is not easy, and why it’s so intriguing for you guys. media, and for all of us”.
Although he accepts that he can’t fully explain why the Belgian GP was so difficult and the Italian GP was better, Clear says that as the teams get more experience with the cars, they are beginning to understand what is going on much better.
“Honestly, we don’t know all the answers, and we still don’t understand exactly what happened at Spa,” he said. “We have some ideas, and obviously we’ve acted on them.”
“We come to Monza, a low-downforce circuit similar to Spa, although different, and we think we have understood something of what happened at Spa.”
“We may find out a few more things later, but we’re continually learning.”
“None of us know all the details, because this is a relative sport, and you don’t know what everyone else is doing, there are a lot of areas where you have to make your best decision almost blindly.”
Clear doesn’t think the new generation of ground effect cars are particularly difficult to understand, but believes the fact that these rules are in their first year means teams have a long way to go before they fully understand them.
“I think it’s just because they’re so new,” Clear added. “There’s always going to be a steep learning curve with a new development or a new set of rules, and everyone is on that steep learning curve.”
“We saw it at the beginning of the year. A lot of people were saying to us: ‘why is your car so fast at the beginning of the year?’ It’s a relative sport.”
“Maybe we came in understanding it a little bit better and some people were finding out where their cars were.”
“That was the beauty of a year with a new regulation. Obviously there’s the high performance aspect of the car package, but also getting to understand that car, and the drivers’ understanding of how to drive it.
“With drivers of the quality of Max [Verstappen], of the quality of Charles [Leclerc], of the quality of Carlos [Sainz], you expect those guys to catch up right away. They are human, and they are working on their talent every day, and they have improved during the year. Perhaps they have understood more”.
“All of that happens at different rates and at different times, and on different teams. When it’s a relative sport, you can’t know all the answers.”