(Motorsport-Total.com) – With all the controversies and dramas of Formula 1 training Friday in Las Vegas, the sporting aspect is almost overshadowed, even if judging by the data, one of the most interesting races of the season 2023 could await us. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc not only dominated the qualifying simulations at the start of the second training session, but also managed to prevail over the competition in long runs with plenty of fuel at the end of the session.
Too fast for the cameras? Charles Leclerc was the fastest driver in all disciplines on Friday in Las Vegas
The Las Vegas Strip Circuit tested drivers and cars not only with its long straights and tight corners, but also with the cold ambient temperatures of 12 to 13 degrees Celsius. Getting enough temperature into the Pirelli tires was no easy task with a track temperature of 15 degrees Celsius.
If you adjust the long-term data for different tire types and exclude some slow laps, Leclerc was on average 0.09 seconds per lap faster than his worst rival Max Verstappen in Red Bull. His Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz is one behind. an average of 0.27 seconds per lap placing third in the long run rankings.
Where Red Bull wastes time on Ferrari
While the Scuderia managed to make up most of the time with the Red Bull with a fast lap in the slow corners – especially in the second sector around the Sphere – in the long run it was more about speed on the long straights. When measuring speed, the Ferraris in their race simulation were on average eleven km/h faster than the Red Bulls.
In the qualifying simulations the two teams were on equal terms, which is why Red Bull may not have shown everything in terms of engine performance on the long runs. The Red Bull also has a larger rear wing than the Ferrari, which doesn’t have much of an impact on top speed when the DRS is opened for a quick lap.
Red Bull’s strengths are also quickly identified from the data. On the one hand, long-term tire wear was significantly lower than that of the Ferrari, on the other hand it exits tight corners better and seems to have advantages in terms of traction. The Ferraris are faster when braking, entering corners and on the straights.
Solid Mercedes, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo surprise
Behind the two teams, Mercedes is third in long-term power ratio with an average gap of 0.47 seconds per lap. While in the qualifying simulation the fastest car – Sergio Perez in the Red Bull – was once again ten km/h below the measured speed, in the long run it was only around four km/h behind the Ferraris.
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It should therefore be a close duel between the Silver Arrows and Aston Martin, even if they were more convincing on the fastest lap than on the long distance. Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll missed on average just over nine tenths per lap, even surpassing AlphaTauri (+0.73) and Alfa Romeo (+0.77).
The AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo was the second fastest car on the long straight, just 0.4km/h on average behind the Ferrari. At Alfa Romeo, however, one wonders whether, as has often happened this season, they had less fuel on board than the competition. However, Valtteri Bottas (+0.77) was miles ahead of his teammate Guanyu Zhou (+2.71).
Concerns with McLaren and Perez: where has the pace gone?
In the other positions are Williams (+1.05), Alpine (+1.36) and Haas (+1.39). However, the big disappointment from Friday’s training is McLaren with a gap of 1.37 seconds per lap to Ferrari, meaning they are only ninth in the overall standings with plenty of fuel.
The MCL60 basically lacks pace because they opted for a very small rear wing to cover up aerodynamic efficiency issues. On the straights the race simulation lacked an average of 1.8 km/h, but the price was paid in the curves.
On the single lap, the DRS effect doesn’t make much difference due to the small rear wing, which is why Red Bull actually missed 15 km/h in the qualifying simulation. Furthermore, it appears that the tires cannot be kept at a constant temperature.
A similar problem appears to have also happened to Max Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. On the fastest lap, the Mexican was about a tenth faster than Verstappen, but in the long run he was a full 1.91 seconds per lap behind Leclerc and therefore 1.82 seconds per lap behind his teammate!
Tire poker: chaos at the start is inevitable!
Due to the cold temperatures overnight in Las Vegas, tires will be the dominant theme for the rest of the weekend. Tire wear is minimal, although it’s difficult to even get the tires up to temperature. Leclerc managed to set the best time in training on his third flying lap, demonstrating that wear is low and that tire temperature is crucial.
The race simulations also showed that, in addition to the exit lap, the first two laps of the stint were extremely slow for most drivers, due to tire temperatures being too low. In some cases the drivers were up to three seconds faster on the third lap of the stint. This also means that for most people the Soft will be the best tire to start on Sunday, as the C5 is the easiest to reach temperature.
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As for the strategy, the one-stop route is by far the fastest route to the finish line, although the soft-medium variant would be the fastest, judging by Friday’s data. Tire wear is extremely low and since the race only lasts 50 laps, you can easily do 20 laps with the soft tires and then fit the medium ones.
The hard tire was tested by some riders on long runs, but it was very difficult to get it up to temperature. An example of this is Yuki Tsunoda, who was five seconds faster on his third lap than on his first lap. Starting on hard tires is inadvisable not only for temperature reasons, but also for the high risk of an early safety car, which would cloud the strategic options for the second stint.
Looking at Friday’s data, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc looks like the top favorite for pole position in qualifying, but expect a close duel between him and Max Verstappen in the race. The key in Las Vegas, however, is the tyres: whoever reaches the right temperature window and manages to maintain it will certainly have an advantage.