Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2022

Downforce decision key to Red Bull’s pursuit of Ferrari in Melbourne

2022 Australian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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As the traditional season-opener for Formula 1 having held more first rounds of the season than any other venue, the Australian Grand Prix is usually a race shrouded in mystery and uncertainty.

However, after two race weekends’ worth of data to draw from and two Friday practice sessions around Albert Park, it’s far easier to read into the results from the first day of running in Melbourne this time around – even with a dramatically revised track layout.

Ferrari had taken the first round in Bahrain with Charles Leclerc fending off Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s best efforts before reliability woes ended their race. Then, Red Bull fought back in Saudi Arabia by making effective use of a low downforce set up around the high-speed Jeddah circuit.

Heading into Melbourne, Verstappen was coy over whether the Red Bull would have an advantage in at Albert Park, given the injection of speed given to it by race organiser.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2022
Ferrari set the pace but Red Bull are on their heels
“We definitely have good top speed but I wouldn’t say we are quicker,” the world champion said on Friday morning, prior to the first practice session. “I personally think the Ferrari is a rocket on the straight but I don’t know. Maybe some other people might disagree, but it also depends on the wing level you take.”

After the chequered flag had flown for the second and final time on Friday, the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez held the monopoly over the highest velocities recorded through the second sector speed trap – the only cars on track to breach the 320ph, 200mph barrier. But Ferrari and Leclerc sat atop the lap times board, almost a quarter of a second faster around the entire 5.28km course than the man who had chased him so relentlessly over the first two races.

Despite setting the overall benchmark for the day, Leclerc admitted he felt Ferrari had work to do ahead of qualifying if they wished to keep Verstappen and Red Bull at bay.

“For me, today was a bit of a harder Friday,” said Leclerc. “FP1 was a bit tricky, I improved in terms of driving in FP2, but there is still quite a bit of work to do.”

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Leclerc’s caution was likely born out of the knowledge that Verstappen was likely faster than his quickest time suggested. The Red Bull claimed to have been “compromised” by Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin through the final sector. While Stroll was not slow enough or in Verstappen’s way enough to claim an impediment, the four tenths of a second Verstappen lost to Leclerc through the final sector alone suggests Verstappen has more lap time in hand for qualifying. For Red Bull, the key will be finding the right downforce levels for qualifying and the race without compromising the car’s balance.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2022
Q3 could be a challenge for Mercedes
“I think FP1 and the beginning of FP2 we were lacking a bit of balance,” Verstappen explained. “Then I think for the final run we changed the car around a bit and I felt a lot happier. We were a tiny bit off Ferrari but I do think that we can maybe make it a bit closer.”

While Ferrari and Red Bull look set for another close encounter this weekend, Mercedes seem destined for another race out of contact of their rivals. George Russell had expected that Melbourne may be less challenging for Mercedes than Saudi Arabia had proved, but that they would be further adrift than in Bahrain and their performance on Friday appeared to provide evidence of that theory, with both Russell and team mate Lewis Hamilton outside of the top ten while struggling with porpoising on straights and a lack of speed through corners.

Mercedes trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin said that temperature and track conditions are playing a big role in where they find themselves on the timing screens.

“We’re finding it hard to generate tyre temperature here so that’s the big thing we need to work on overnight,” said Shovlin.

“We were clearly more competitive in the first session than in the cooler conditions of the afternoon session, and the data we’re seeing from the car is supporting the fact we’re just not hot enough. If we can improve that then it’s quite possible to find a good amount of grip but at the moment, we’re in a vicious circle where the drivers don’t have the confidence to carry the speed through the faster corners, and it’s that speed that will generate the temperature we desperately need.”

As Mercedes chase performance, Alpine and McLaren will be focusing on how to maintain it. Both teams enjoyed possibly their best starts to a race weekend of the season so far. Fernando Alonso briefly topped the session before ending the day fourth fastest, ahead of Perez’s Red Bull, however Esteban Ocon – who ended Friday sixth – is under no illusions for how competitive the battle for the top ten positions will be tomorrow.

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“We know it’s all about tomorrow and Sunday and we can already see that it’s going to be very tight like it was in Bahrain and Jeddah,” said Ocon. “The competition is close, especially in the midfield, so we will be working hard to put it all together for qualifying.”

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Albert Park, 2022
Alpine are closest to the top two teams
McLaren’s Lando Norris described the team’s day as their “best Friday” of the season, but he was keen to play down his team’s chances of strong points on Sunday, believing the team’s would be at their strongest on Saturday.

“I think we have a bit more work to do in the long run,” said Norris. “I’m a bit more confident in the short run. I think a bit of it is our car limitation and a bit of that is exposing a bit more in the high fuel pace.”

After tyre management became such a crucial factor over the first two race weekends, many in the paddock were interested to see how the C5 tyre – the softest available – would fare prior to the weekend. After a day of running, there was evidence to suggest to Pirelli’s motorsport director, Mario Isola, that the strategies for Sunday could revolve around the two harder compounds.

“We observed some graining on the medium and soft in particular during both sessions,” Isola explained. “As this obviously has a direct effect on degradation, managing it will be a key element to the race strategy – although we’d probably expect the teams to focus on the two harder compounds, using the soft for qualifying.

“With the track evolution here, we’ve not quite seen the full picture yet so the final data we get from FP3 tomorrow will also be important in terms of strategy.”

Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
116Charles LeclercFerrari1’20.3771’18.97847
21Max VerstappenRed Bull1’20.6261’19.2230.24544
355Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’19.8061’19.3760.39850
414Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’21.2291’19.5370.55943
511Sergio PerezRed Bull1’20.3991’19.6580.68040
631Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’21.0041’19.8420.86452
777Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.2471’20.0551.07748
84Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’20.8781’20.1001.12246
910Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’21.7011’20.1421.16453
103Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’21.1551’20.2031.22547
1163George RussellMercedes1’21.4571’20.2121.23451
1222Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’21.2891’20.4241.44656
1344Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’21.0271’20.5211.54348
1418Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.8691’20.6111.63352
1524Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.8211’21.0632.08544
1620Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’23.1861’21.1912.21340
175Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.661No time2.68318
1823Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’22.7541’21.9122.93452
1947Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’24.3491’21.9742.99637
206Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’23.9241’22.3073.32948

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2022 Australian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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6 comments on “Downforce decision key to Red Bull’s pursuit of Ferrari in Melbourne”

  1. It’s interesting that Ferrari’s top speeds in race trim are much closer to RB than they are over a single lap. On low fuel the RB was 10 kph faster at the end of the pit straight, 6 kph before T3, 10 kph before T9 and 6 kph before T11. On high fuel without DRS the Ferrari is faster at the end of the pit straight by about 2 kph on average, identical before T3, then 3 kph slower before T9, but 5 kph faster before T11.

    Verstappen was very quick on his long runs on the mediums, but he also was in Bahrain. Then in the race Ferrari turned it around and had the better package. I suspect RB were running a lighter fuel load on their FP2 long runs, because Max was also comfortably faster through the fast corners (between 6 and 10 kph) than Leclerc.
    Front tyre graining could be an issue for Ferrari on Sunday. They seemed to be more affected by it than RB was. Then again it’s getting a couple of degrees warmer on Sunday, so the graining may also disappear with higher track temperatures and more rubber on the surface.

  2. What a wonderful shot of the Red Bull. I love that this generation of cars has made even the 2021-spec ones look instantly a decade old.

  3. The ferrari is no rocket. Aint seen the difference in years how Max closes on the straight. Hamilton in 2019 went vs a rocket Max. Same as anyone not in a Merc in 2014-2016

  4. Mercedes is having a hard time warming up the tyres. McLaren has brake issues? Williams and Aston slow as well? There’s one thing they share in common… but probably can’t speak about it.

    As soon as this (PU cooling?) issue is solved they’ll be back in the game.

    Haas is flying, Alfa is flying, Ferrari is flying. And they have more than one thing in common…

    So, the pure breeds are Alpine and RedBull. And I should say Alpine is the hero there, all by themselves, no customer teams to share info and still ahead of 50% of the pack. I’m counting them in for 2023.

    It seems it will be red or dark blue this year. For a change.

  5. A bit unrelated, and I think we all want F1 to be a ‘meritocracy’ of some sort, but I do like the idea of Charles and Carlos being at the front of the field with Max. Not that Lewis is to be thrown to the vestiges of F1, more that we’ve been waiting for this generation for a little while now (add Lando & George) and it sort of seems to be happening.

    Lewis is obviously incredible, and his record speaks for itself, he’s proved time and again his talent. But I am excited by this next group and how history will play out and how terribly this comment will age. Perhaps non other than Max will walk away from F1 with a title. Maybe Nikita will win six. Who knows?

    Obviously it’d be nice for F1 to have some female representation, in the meantime however, it’s next generation seem like a pretty good group for a sport to base its future on. They all seem different and unique, happy to yell obscenities at each other to their engineers in the heat of the moment. But have a laugh and most importantly, seem to be talented enough to compete and beat the established in F1. It’s exciting to watch them all try and jump the highest.

    1. @bernasaurus That’s more or less my feeling as well. I’d like to see Mercedes sort out their car still this season, in part for GR’s sake, but not so soon that they’re fighting for the championships too. The prospect of the Ferrari – Red Bull title fight(s) is enough with Mercedes adding some spice at later races. Kind of disappointed that Lando/McLaren aren’t up there too though.

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