I believe there is no doubt that Ferrari taking charge in Singapore is one of the surprises of the season. It was well known the Ferrari struggled at tracks that rely on higher downforce, the last race on a high downforce circuit was one of Ferrari’s weakest races of 2019. Yet here we are with a Ferrari on pole on one of the most downforce reliant tracks of the season.
This video uploaded to the official Formula One YouTube channel compares the two laps and could give an interesting take on where the upgraded SF90 is strong and where it loses out to it’s silver rival. I am also going to break down this comparison and talk through where gains and losses were made.
As the drivers cross the line you can see in the live gap that Leclerc pulls away as they approach Turn 1. This is consistent which what is expected due to Ferrari having better straight line speed. However as soon as they hit the brakes, Lewis makes up that deficit and is momentarily ahead, however when they accelerate out of Turn 2, Leclerc jumps back ahead and extends the advantage at Turn 3, but as they start to exit, Lewis claws that back. A first oversteery moment on the exit loses him momentum and nullifies his straight line speed advantage heading up to Turn 5. At this point they are pretty much neck and neck. But turning into the corner, Charles gains over a tenth, the Ferrari looks a lot more stable, if you compare the steering wheels, Lewis’s has more movement.
Down Raffled Boulevard, this is the Ferrari’s strong part of the track and sure enough, the gap was extended to just over two tenths of a second by the time the braking zone arrived. But edgy corners where the car moves around a lot such as Turn 7 is where the Mercedes is expected to come into its own, which is proven by the fact Lewis claws some of that gap back at Turn 7. But at Turn 8, and this is a surprising part as this is the sort of corner the Mercedes typically has handled better. But Charles extended that gap to almost 3 tenths of a second and further extended it at Turn 9. By turn 10 the gap was almost 4 tenths of a second
Turn 10 is another medium speed corner where the Mercedes seems to have the upper hand, and Lewis took a noticeably tighter line whilst Charles ran a bit wide. This closed the gap to 3 tenths of a second. Turns 11 and 12 is another ‘edgy’ complex of corners which the Mercedes thrives at, and Lewis made gains, assisted by a second oversteery moment for Charles. But Charles gained some time back at Turn 13. He didn’t quite get the drive though, which gave Lewis more momentum and gain time down the straight. By the time Turn 14 arrived, the gap was just over two tenths of a second, which was further closed at the corner itself, on exit the gap is just over a tenth and a half.
On the run to the kink of Turn 15 and the 16/17 chicane, the straight line speed of the Ferrari allowed the gap to get up to two tenths. But this is the section where most would expect the Mercedes to have the advantage, and sure enough, at the chicane, Lewis closed the gap to just under a tenth and a half. However the slower speed Turns 18 and 19 allowed Charles to gain that back. Evidently, looking at the comparison, the Ferrari drivers can carry more speed into the slow speed corners now. But the livelier Turns 20 and 21 appeared to allow Lewis to gain that back once more.
On approach to the high speed final corner complex of Turns 22 and 23, Charles gained ever so slightly and the car appeared to have more stability in the corner complex itself, enabling Charles to extend the gap to just under two tenths of a second and take pole position. Here is a full breakdown of which car had the advantage in each corner in this instance, based on the graphic in the video and my findings. Note corners that don’t have any effect that are typically ignored have been excluded from this. Also note that Ferrari have the advantage in the straights.
Turn 1: Mercedes
Turn 2: Ferrari
Turn 3: Mercedes
Turn 5: Ferrari
Turn 7: Mercedes
Turn 8: Ferrari
Turn 9: Ferrari
Turn 10: Mercedes
Turn 11/12: Mercedes
Turn 13: Ferrari
Turn 14: Mercedes
Turn 16/17: Mercedes
Turn 18/19: Ferrari
Turn 20/21: Mercedes
Turn 22/23: Ferrari
In conclusion, it appears the aerodynamic upgrades have enabled Ferrari to be faster in low speed corners/sections. This is what has clearly been worked on in this upgrade package as before they were disadvantaged in this area. The increased engine power and overall stability enables them to be quicker in the high speed sections as well. The medium speed sections are where there is the most variation. In stable medium speed corners, the Ferrari seems to have an advantage, but in livelier medium and high speed corners, the Mercedes is at home and makes a lot of gains.
So my guess is the improvements in low speed corners made the difference in Singapore qualifying, However it may be a different story in the race as the car is naturally livelier with a heavy fuel load, and as mentioned before, it is that scenario where the Mercedes makes gains.