What we learned from Friday F1 practice at the 2023 Italian Grand Prix
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz grabbed the headlines on Friday at the Italian Grand Prix, and while Red Bull still remains the dominant force, hopes of a Scuderia surge for the tifosi are on the up, while plenty of other contenders cannot be counted out just yet
Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen shared the practice spoils across the opening two Formula 1 sessions at Monza, as Sergio Perez crashed but still hailed his “best Friday in a while”.
FP1 and FP2 provided hints of who will succeed in the 2023 Italian Grand Prix – the winner of which will receive a specially designed trophy inspired by the exhaust pipes used on F1 cars. This has been commissioned by Pirelli and created by Italian artist Ruth Beraha.
She took simultaneous inspiration from the Greek myth of Typhon, a giant with 100 snakes wrapped around his head. Hopefully just as vividly, here’s everything we learned across two practice sessions of F1 cars snaking their way through Monza’s former royal park – sadly bereft after around 10,000 trees came down during a July thunderstorm – on Friday.
The story of the day
In FP1, Verstappen led the way by just 0.046s over Sainz – in a session where attention once again turned to Pirelli’s Alternative Tyre Allocation (ATA) experiment.
As was the case in Hungary, teams have two fewer tyre sets available this weekend (11 versus 13 as usual), as F1 assesses whether it can transport fewer around the world. Pirelli also hopes the teams will have greater strategic variance as a result of being restricted to running hard rubber on each car in Q1, mediums in Q2 and softs in Q3.
This all meant the teams were very frugal in the number of tyre sets they deployed in FP1, with Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes using just the hards, Aston Martin and Haas staying on the mediums and Alpine, McLaren, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and Williams sticking with the softs.
The lower tyre sets total, plus there being no requirement to save a big collection of softs to use throughout qualifying, means each driver should theoretically have multiple sets of all three compounds available for Sunday’s race. Typically at non-ATA races, they may only have one or two new hards or mediums and perhaps no new softs, depending on wear levels at different tracks.
All these considerations meant Pirelli was able to go a compound step softer compared to the 2022 event here, with C3-C4-C5 the selection versus C2-C3-C4. Its motorsport boss Mario Isola said during FP1 his company is happy with the ATA information gathered so far, but feels it does need some “fine-tuning”.
Teams used less tyres than usual but the level of running appeared not to be affected
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
He also reckons there is “no issue for spectators” with the fewer tyre sets available, as even with teams keeping drivers on the same tyres throughout FP1 the lap totals are comparable to normal. For exact comparison, 483 laps were completed in 2023’s FP1 and 509 in 2022.
There were two other notable elements of FP1.
The bottoming-out problem appeared greatly reduced across the field in FP2, with the teams having adjusted their ride heights so the only real bouncing was coming through the tyre flex under load as is typical
The first was the Alfa Romeo drivers being impacted by twin clutch issues as they tried to exit the pits for the first time in their gorgeously re-liveried C43s.
The second was the many cars bottoming out as they traversed the track’s long straights – the factor that meant Monza was picked for the second ATA after the Imola cancellation, as Pirelli needed data from a track with fewer corners and long acceleration zones to compare with the loads seen on its products versus the “95% corners” of the Hungary ATA, per Isola.
Sainz’s SF-23 was striking the ground massively on the run to the Parabolica early in FP1, while Pierre Gasly and Zhou Guanyu also complained about the same issue aboard their Alpine and Alfa respectively.
Overall FP2 order
Stroll failed to register a time on Friday at all
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
In FP2, the action was rather delayed before it got going as Lance Stroll had to stop his Aston Martin just past the Ascari chicane on his third lap due to a fuel system problem. As he had given his AMR23 to Aston junior and reserve Felipe Drugovich for FP1, it leaves Stroll massively down on running compared to his peers heading into the sessions that matter.
Verstappen then led the way on the medium tyres after this, before Sainz and Leclerc forged ahead, but this was merely a preamble with the mid-session qualifying simulation runs still to come.
In these, Sainz backed out of his first run due to a rear locking issue at the second chicane, while Leclerc’s personal best couldn’t even shade the Spaniard’s top effort on the mediums. They both got another go, with Leclerc unable to find any more time but with Sainz blitzing back to the top on a 1m21.355s.
This put Piastri ahead of Verstappen by 0.086s, as the Dutchman’s sole qualifying simulation run was disrupted by traffic around the second Lesmo turn. Red Bull then vetoed Verstappen’s request to attempt a second flier, preferring to concentrate on the usual high-fuel data-gathering exercises.
In these, FP2 was halted a second time when Perez lost the rear of his RB19 and spun off backwards into the Parabolica gravel. He did remarkably well to avoid major damage, as he held the spin for long enough that his car only lightly backed into the barriers far into the corner exit compared to some of the major shunts that have happened at that point of the track over the years.
The bottoming-out problem appeared greatly reduced across the field in FP2, with the teams having adjusted their ride heights so the only real bouncing was coming through the tyre flex under load as is typical.
Medium tyre averages
Both the overall pace order and the long run averages are even more fraught with peril at Monza – in addition to the usual caveats about practice fuel loads and engine modes. This is because the teams were trialling various downforce levels and specific set-up tweaks around the ATA requirements.
Then there were the experiments with tows, which included Perez towing Verstappen at the start of his disrupted FP2 soft run just after the Mexican had set his personal best lap. The pair tried different downforce levels in FP1, with Perez chosen to sample Red Bull’s trimmed rear wing flap trailing edge arrangement.
Red Bull practiced a tow that could be used in qualifying on Saturday
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
On how the downforce trials impacted run plans, Mercedes, for example, only had George Russell complete a soft tyre qualifying simulation as Lewis Hamilton had been running a rather higher downforce level – particularly centred on the aero parts around the rear brakes – to try and find additional cornering speed.
When this didn’t arrive compared to what Mercedes had anticipated from its previous simulator running, it was decided Hamilton would save his first soft efforts for FP3 – with Mercedes also lacking enough time to change his rear wing package in any case.
This explained Hamilton’s lowly 17th in FP2, with the seven-time world champion not even fitting a single set of softs all day.
Mercedes also reckons Russell failed to get the best out of his run on that rubber in FP2, so it expects to close up to the rest come qualifying. It is, however, pessimistic that it can reach the head of the pack behind Red Bull over a race stint at this stage – even though the team calculated that the later laps of Hamilton’s medium-shod long run late in FP2 were better than the opening tours where he was spotted dipping his wheels into the gravel exiting the second chicane.
Red Bull reckoned that shortened running means it is yet to show its hand even slightly when it comes to race stint pace
Ferrari should be very encouraged with its apparent return to form following its slog of a weekend at Zandvoort. The Scuderia’s rivals reckon right now it is looking solid and genuine prospect for the podium this weekend, where it was comparatively nowhere special just a week ago.
Although Red Bull remains the favourite for pole, Sainz in particular feels Ferrari has made a turnaround in a week. Leclerc, however, is still struggling with his car balance over a lap.
But he did produce the best long run average on the medium tyres (see above), although these were disrupted for all teams by Perez’s crash cutting short the running and so have to be viewed through the prism of tyre degradation not biting as might be expected over a further distance.
Red Bull reckoned that shortened running means it is yet to show its hand even slightly when it comes to race stint pace.
McLaren performed strongly despite downplaying expectations ahead of the weekend
Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images
Plus, data Autosport has seen, which corrects the long-run averages for fuel loads and engine modes via dedicated software, puts Red Bull several tenths quicker on average in the FP2 long runs. This is when compared to Leclerc’s 1m25.221s average in the table above, even when the Ferrari data has been similarly adjusted.
McLaren fell down the order slightly over the FP2 long runs compared to its lower fuel pace, but it nevertheless felt satisfied with its attempts to compare downforce levels around its new, slimmer rear wing package today.
Williams should be very pleased with its showing so far on what is fond ground for the slippery FW45 given Monza’s long straights.
After addressing a balance problem for both Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant in FP1, Williams got amongst the leaders on one-lap pace and led the midfield on the medium long run averages. The team feels it has a very solid platform on which to build over the weekend.
At Aston, the team is lacking a hefty dose of data and opted to spend Alonso’s long run assessing the soft as a race option. But it is thought he encountered considerable degradation during this, which is seen in the 1.5s average loss to the best of the medium long runs logged in the table above.
For the first time in what seems like many ages in 2023, the Monza weekend is forecasted to run dry throughout. It is predicted that track evolution will be a big factor in qualifying, where this circuit tends to produce small gaps between the cars due to the long time spent on full throttle. Traffic could therefore become a major talking point once again…
In terms of race strategy, it had been thought that if the softer compounds could hold up on degradation, a one-stop race might be possible using that rubber. But with the ATA surely set to leave the teams with more race tyres than usual and the high chance of a safety car intervening, two stops are more likely.
Sainz ended Friday on top of the timesheets at Monza
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Plus, the degradation levels logged by Pirelli in FP2 suggest that the medium and hard tyres are set to the most important race tyres. But, again, the track evolution and possible race interruptions could mean the soft regains importance.
So, it’s first blood to Ferrari on home soil. But Red Bull is as mighty as ever, on a circuit where even if it did find itself knocked off the top spot in qualifying, its potent DRS would surely make another Verstappen or Perez recovery a formality in the race for 2023 perfection.
What they say:
Sainz: “Overall it was a positive Friday for the team. The car looks to be back on the pace this weekend and the track characteristics seem to be suiting us better. It’s only Friday and tomorrow is not going to be easy, as the field is super tight with several cars within a couple of tenths. We’ll keep trying to find more performance, especially for the long runs where I think there is more room for improvement.”
Norris: “A good day in terms of progress made. I don’t think we started off in the best position but we made a few good changes and it’s definitely helped us with our overall pace, which is a good thing. However, we’re still a little way off being as competitive as we want to be. We’ll work hard overnight to try and improve on that, and we have a few ideas. But a nice way to end the day, and if we can find some more, I’ll be confident we can have a decent result.”
Perez: "I understeered off on the exit [of Parabolica] and I tried to keep it nailed. I thought I had it under control but then I touched a bit of the gravel and that was game over. It doesn't look too bad, the damage. It was fairly small, so I don't think we lost anything in the end. A few laps, so nothing representative in that regard. The positive is that the car is performing well. I'm feeling comfortable with it. And I think we are in a good position for the rest of the weekend. I really felt that we had a very strong Friday. This has been the best Friday in a while for us. I think we found some positive steps in the car, so hopefully we can show it all tomorrow and on Sunday.
Verstappen: “From my side it could have probably been a little bit better today, there is still some fine tuning to do from the low speed to the high speed, but I am, of course, quite confident we will get there. We have been trying a few different wing levels and I think we still need to analyse which way to go, it is sometimes a tricky thing around Monza. We were a little bit interrupted with our programme in FP2, so it was hard to get a read on a few things. On the short run I was blocked a bit in sector two and then on the long run we didn’t get to do a lot of laps, so you don’t really get a good idea but that’s the same for everyone.”
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director: “It's been a messy day, partly with red flags but also because we've not got the car in a good place at the moment. That means we have a bit of work to do overnight to get the set up in the right place for the rest of the weekend. Single lap and long run both need work if we want to be competitive. There's not much else to say; we just need to get on with the job of sorting the car out.”
Can Ferrari retain its advantage into Saturday?
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
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