Ferrari look fast on Friday, but Red Bull have pace in hand

2023 Italian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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When the Alternative Tyre Allocation format was finally introduced for the first time this season at the Hungarian Grand Prix, drivers were quick to lament the loss of the two dry tyre sets they get at their disposal every other race weekend.

Both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton insisted the experimental tyre format would lead to reduced running during Friday practice sessions as teams jealously conserved the tyres they had available for the remainder of the weekend. But if Friday at Monza was anything to go by, it seems the world champions’ fears did not materialise quite as dramatically as they could have as the field combined for almost 900 laps across the two hours of practice – just over 100 fewer laps than the first day of the last Italian Grand Prix weekend in 2022.

The Tifosi who ventured to the hallowed venue for practice not only got to see a healthy level of on-track action, they also were sent home happy when Carlos Sainz Jnr ended the day as the fastest driver for Ferrari. But with the majority of those in the top half of the field only using three sets of tyres across the two sessions – one for each practice plus a short run on soft tyres in the second hour – it was difficult to read too much into the leaders’ ultimate lap times.

With Sainz setting the pace for Ferrari, it seems as though the SF-23 is living up to its pattern of performing best as lower downforce circuits. Even if Sainz himself claimed he has given up on trying to predict whether Ferrari will fare better or worse depending on track layout ahead of each weekend, it looks as though their car enjoys the straights and the quick corners of Monza better than the consecutive corners of Zandvoort last weekend.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Monza, 2023
McLaren relegated Red Bull to third-fastest on Friday
“It cannot get much better than that,” Sainz said after the session. “It was a smooth day, to be honest.

“As soon as we put the car on track here, for some reason, it just adapted a lot better and it was a lot easier to set up and drive it per corner.”

Sainz was consistently near the top of the speed trap rankings over the three sectors of the circuit – naturally an encouraging sign for the fastest race on the calendar. But before the Tifosi can get too carried away with dreams of seeing Ferrari finally snap Red Bull’s record win streak, it’s also clear that Red Bull were by no means pushing to their best during second practice.

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Verstappen ended the second session only fifth fastest, a quarter of a second slower than Sainz’s best. But that vast majority of that deficit, during his sole flying lap on soft tyres, came down the straights. Verstappen was running slightly higher downforce than team mate Sergio Perez – who ended the day third fastest – thanks to a different rear wing configuration. Heading up the hill towards the Ascari chicane on his fastest lap, Verstappen was almost 10kph slower than Sainz at the end of the straight, then slower than him on the following two straights, suggesting Red Bull have speed in hand for when they need it in qualifying.

“We’ve been trying a few different wing levels,” Verstappen explained. “I think we still need to analyse a bit what way to go – that’s sometimes a bit of a tricky thing around Monza.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monza, 2023
As usual, Red Bull look more potent over longer runs
“From my side, it probably could have been a little bit better. Still fine-tuning a bit the low-speed to the high-speed. I’m quite confident we’ll get there.”

Even Perez, whose day ended 10 minutes early when he crashed at Alboreto (formerly Parabolica), was buoyed by Red Bull’s showing, despite being third-fastest behind Sainz and Lando Norris at the end of the session. His times throughout second practice were only slightly slower than his team mate’s – when he wasn’t faster than him – but as we’ve seen so many times this year with Perez, whether he can carry that over to when it counts on Saturday is a whole other matter entirely.

McLaren had a very promising day with Norris second and Oscar Piastri backing up his team mate’s pace with the fourth-fastest time. Compared to the last low-downforce circuit, Spa-Francorchamps, where they suffered significantly with high drag which left them vulnerable on the straights, McLaren looked a little more promising. By no means the fastest car in a straight line across the lap, Piastri was the third-fastest through the speed trap behind Alexander Albon’s Williams and Leclerc’s Ferrari. Through the Lesmos in the middle sector, Piastri and Norris were particularly fast, with the pair setting the fastest and third-fastest sector two times of the day, respectively.

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On the other hand, Mercedes endured one of their more concerning Fridays of the season. Both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were among the slowest in a straight line in the second session, with Hamilton the slowest all aside from Lance Stroll, who did not complete a single timed lap. Russell is hoping his team can summon some more performance in time for a vital qualifying session on Saturday.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Monza, 2023
Mercedes didn’t have the smoothest start to the weekend
“I think the race is going to be challenging for everybody because when you’re on these skinny rear wings, there’s not much of a slipstream effect,” Russell said. “So there’s might be a bit more emphasis on qualifying than usual.”

Will the reduced slipstream may prevent the farcical scenes of past seasons where drivers slow to a crawl through their out laps in a bid to gain a tow from a rival? With drivers also forced to use an obligatory compound for each phase of qualifying, ensuring that their tyres are in the right operating window may be more crucial to their lap time than a slipstream. However teams, including Red Bull, used Friday’s sessions to practice having their drivers give each other a tow.

In Hungary, Sainz painted himself as having “paid the price” for the ATA’s tyre restrictions, being eliminated in Q2 on the medium compound, one he had struggled with across that weekend. He will be feeling more optimistic about his chances at Monza, given how much better suited his car seems to be to their home circuit, but the compulsory compounds may well lead to some unexpected names falling victim this time around.

But at least for the local fans, Ferrari look at this early stage as though they could be the closest contenders to the Red Bull this weekend. And that is something Sainz will happily take for now.

“It doesn’t mean that we are going to be P1 tomorrow and in the race,” Sainz said, “but at least the feeling is much better.”

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Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’22.7031’21.35551
24Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’23.2411’21.3740.01941
311Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’22.8341’21.5400.18547
481Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’23.4461’21.5450.19044
51Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’22.6571’21.6310.27651
616Charles LeclercFerrari1’22.9661’21.7160.36145
723Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’23.4441’21.9790.62436
814Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’23.2141’22.0710.71639
963George RussellMercedes1’23.1891’22.1760.82147
1027Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’24.0671’22.2910.93642
1120Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’24.2171’22.5741.21945
1277Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’23.9521’22.5951.24036
1310Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’23.9311’22.6511.29647
1422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’23.2711’22.6961.34145
1531Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’24.0901’22.7161.36147
162Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’23.6611’22.7551.40045
1744Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’23.2691’22.7831.42849
1840Liam LawsonAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’23.8331’23.1671.81251
1924Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’24.2321’23.3461.99137
2034Felipe DrugovichAston Martin-Mercedes1’24.1402.78524

Teams’ progress vs 2022

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2023 Italian 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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11 comments on “Ferrari look fast on Friday, but Red Bull have pace in hand”

  1. It is only practice but after the great show at Zandvoort the improvement by AM is encouraging

    1. They’re way off the pace here. I see Red bull, Ferrari, Mclaren and Williams ahead of them on pace this weekend. I think they’ll be fighting for the points with Mercedes

      1. Let’s wait for Fred’s trademark magic ;)

  2. If I wanted to watch tyres, I’d go to Kwik Fit.

  3. Alex 7 tents off on Mediums. That’s a dark horse there.

    1. Coventry Climax
      2nd September 2023, 2:26

      So many word games here. 7 tents, is that another one?

  4. Coventry Climax
    2nd September 2023, 2:27

    Ferrari look fast on friday

    Yes, for some reason people always have that association with red.

    1. Shame they also fit the other clique about Sunday drivers

  5. Leclerc looks a bit shaken, bitten too many times by the SF-23? I’d put my money on Sainz being quicker of the two for the weekend.

    Looks like we could have another mixed top 6 in qualifying with potentially 6 teams (some based on a single driver – Albon, Alonso) capable of making it in there.

    Curious to see how Lawson does the next two days. It does feel good having a kiwi back in F1, even if temporary. Makes messing my sleep up far more worthwhile. 1am race start here…

    1. fingers crossed Sainz takes victory. If he has the pace and can get a few seconds in front, he could work it.

      1. fingers crossed Sainz takes victory. If he has the pace and can get a few seconds in front, he could work it.

        Nah, as soon as Sainz (or anyone) looks like getting close, RBR will tell Max and Checo to release the handbrake and dump the sandbags

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