Altitude hurts Ferrari more than rivals say drivers after worst qualifying of season

2022 Mexican Grand Prix

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The Ferrari drivers believe the high altitude in Mexico City affected the performance of their car, leading to their worst qualifying performance so far this year.

Carlos Sainz Jnr took fifth on the grid, two places ahead of Charles Leclerc who was out-qualified by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas. The pair have only had a worse combined qualifying result on weekends where they have taken grid penalties.

The Ferrari has been difficult to drive since the weekend began, said Sainz. He believes the thin air at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, which is 2,200 metres above sea level, has affected their car’s performance more than their rivals.

“I think we’ve lost quite a bit of performance in high altitude,” said Sainz told media including RaceFans. “We need to see because I think it’s just a one-off. I think it’s a track that doesn’t suit us very well. But we’ve tried to do the best we could.”

Sainz said the team expected the altitude would be a problem for them before the weekend began, and believes it has affected the car’s performance in more than one way. “Altitude shouldn’t affect us in terms of cornering speed so my guess is that maybe something going on with the tyres and probably also the engine,” he explained.

“I think the altitude for this engine is not going exactly how we wanted. We knew before coming here we were going to need to take some compromises. And then tyres and the car over kerbs and bumps was just difficult to drive.”

Both drivers looked ill at ease with the car in high speed corners. Sainz admitted “it was a fight.”

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“That’s why I couldn’t put a lap together. We will dig deep, but at the same time we shouldn’t get too discouraged. I think it’s a very particular track, a very particular scenario and we need to analyse what we could have done better around here and see tomorrow the race becomes better.”

Sainz took pole position at the Circuit of the Americas a week ago but was half a second off the top spot today. “There was probably a bit more out there but the car has been difficult to drive and normally, when it’s difficult, it’s difficult to put laps together like we did in Austin,” he said.

“Today there’s probably a couple of tenths in the bag, but for how difficult it was, I think I was extracting out there quite a lot from it. We just need to have a look.”

Leclerc said it was been clear from the beginning of practice the altitude was harming their car’s performance but he also encountered other problems. “This was the case since the beginning of FP1, with the altitude, obviously you lose a little bit of performance and Red Bull and Mercedes seems to be stronger on that for the whole weekend.

“But for me FP3 and quali there was something more specific that I don’t know yet what the problem was.”

Following his crash in second practice yesterday, Leclerc has experienced problems with his power unit, parts of which were replaced at the previous round in Austin.

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“Whether it’s because of the crash I’m not sure, but for speaking about this qualifying there was something strange or wrong with the engine. Losing quite a lot of time down the straights from FP3 to Q3.

“Not [just] compared to the Red Bull or Mercedes because this has been the case since FP1 and we knew it. But there was something strange and also the throttle, the engine was not really responding to the throttle input I was having in the high speed. I really hope we can fix those issues for tomorrow otherwise it going to be an extremely difficult race to be consistent.”

The engine problems made it harder for Leclerc to judge whether the altitude was affecting his car’s aerodynamic balance.

“I honestly for me it’s very difficult to comment the balance because there was really a lot of inconsistency in the high speed and it will not do exactly what I wanted with the engine so I could get surprised and then get a snap. It’s difficult to compare the balance because it felt quite good when the engine was responding to what I was doing, but it was just very inconsistent.”

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2022 Mexican Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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12 comments on “Altitude hurts Ferrari more than rivals say drivers after worst qualifying of season”

  1. Isn’t the Alpha Romeo a Ferrari engine ? Maybe the attitude not the altitude is their problem.

    1. Altitude affects more than the engine. E.g. a draggy car is less of an issue here.

    2. Cooling issue could explain that. Leclerc was definitely very slow on s1.

    3. Isn’t the Alpha Romeo a Ferrari engine ?

      It is indeed a Ferrari engine, and apparently fine to produce enough power to beat the works team.
      One factor could be the Ferrari doesn’t seem to ride the kerbs quite so well since the TD around the time of Spa and so many of the kerbs at Mexico City invite the driver to ride them.

      This fall off in form from the TD point has an awful echo of the 2019 fall off, that was caused by Ferrari relying on (illegal) engine power to compensate for poor design elsewhere.

      1. In another article, Bottas says:

        I think all those slow-speed corners, we seem pretty strong. Even over the kerbs, through the chicanes, we seem quite good and the car feels quite nice over the kerbs.

        Which suggests that the advantage is that the Alfa rides the kerbs better than the Ferrari.

      2. So Ferrari are cheating again?

        1. So Ferrari are cheating again

          Ferrari were operating with a floor design that passed all the tests that were used in the first part of the season, the testing methods changed to deal with a build feature on a couple of cars that wasn’t within the spirit of the regulations even though the cars passed the original tests.
          Ferrari have modified the design to ensure that they pass the new tests.

          Nothing like the engine /fuel flow cheating covered by TD/regulation change in 2019. Then Ferrari were using active measures to hide what they were doing from the FIA tests/monitoring (fuel flow sensors had interference that happened whenever the engine needed more fuel than was permitted)

          Some people are fond of talking about oil burning and accusing MB of cheating then (2017?) – the fact is that multiple teams (All?) were doing it, and Ferrari even installed an extra oil tank to hold the (different grade) oil. FIA told them to remove it.
          Merc introduce replacement ICE before the reg change to grandfather units of that style of engine. They obeyed the letter of the regs.

  2. I’d believe it if Alpine was on pole…

  3. I really hope we can fix those issues for tomorrow otherwise it going to be an extremely difficult race to be consistent.”

    The cars are in parc ferme, so what can they ‘fix’? I thought everything was frozen at the start of qualifying; engine modes, suspension settings, etc. except for front wing angles and tires pressures, as long as they are above the minimum. I know you can replace like for like, with FIA approval, but what would that change if there is a fundamental problem?

  4. How were they so quick at Red Bull Ring? And should we expect similar struggles at Interlagos?

    1. @wsrgo Red Bull Ring is nowhere near as much on altitude & Interlagos is similar, so I’m sure they’ll be okay.

    2. Bit of like the Mercs in 17, 18 and 19.

      They came to Mexico with the best engines and cars yet it was the Renault that worked best here when on other tracks they were nowhere close to the regular power output of Merc and Ferrari.

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