Technical F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: The key part on the SF-23 that helped Ferrari beat Red Bull to pole in Mexico
A key part of Ferrari locking out the front row in Mexico, ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, was how well the team was able to equalise the tyre temperatures between the front and rear axles on the out-lap. F1 tech expert Mark Hughes explains all…
That particular challenge is always extreme in the high altitudes of Mexico City, but is also notably difficult at Baku, Monaco and Singapore, three circuits at which the Ferrari has qualified extremely well (pole at Baku and Singapore, within 0.1s of pole at Monaco).
Whenever the challenge is getting the front tyres hot enough by the start of the lap without overheating the rear tyres, the Ferrari drivers seem to have less difficulty than the Red Bull drivers.
Partly, this may be to do with respective traits in the dynamics of two very different cars. But it can also be how effective the brakes are at transferring heat from the discs and callipers through the wheel rims and to the tyres.
Ferrari’s use of Brembo discs is not unusual – the field is split roughly in half between those who use Brembo and those who run Carbone Industrie. Red Bull uses the latter.
So it was therefore very interesting that in FP1 in Mexico, Red Bull tried the Brembo discs on Max Verstappen’s car. Even though they then reverted to the Carbone discs for the rest of the weekend, the test is said to have gone very well.
It has probably not escaped Red Bull’s attention that on almost every occasion it has been beaten to pole this year it has been because of how the Ferrari drivers seem to find it much easier to quickly generate front tyre temperature.
Trying out the Brembos will have given Red Bull a clue as to whether this trait is about the different brakes or the different cars.
The Brembo discs used for Mexico have extra cooling holes to deal with the greater heat rejection required because of the thinner air at this altitude. The standard disc has 990 cooling holes. The Mexico-spec one has 1,050.
Although the extra holes bring more cooling capacity, paradoxically it also means the discs heat up faster because there is less material to absorb the heat energy.
Another of the tricky balancing acts the brake designers must resolve is to give good performance over a wide range of operating temperatures. Brembos have a good reputation in this.
But the wider the operating window, the lower the peak performance tends to be. As with almost everything in F1, it’s a trade-off.
Red Bull, despite its utter domination of the last two seasons, is clearly still leaving no stone unturned in addressing any perceived shortfalls.