The new generation of ground effect machines has thrown up a number of surprises this year and teams have sometimes found themselves on the back foot in race weekends where they expected to do much better.
But this also has a downside, as sometimes teams find that their performance far exceeds what they expected.
Ferrari is looking for answers to exactly that situation this year, struggling so much at Spa-Francorchamps recently, but then being much stronger at Monza – even though both tracks require low downforce and good aero efficiency.
Jock Clear, who is the team’s senior performance engineer, admits that even his squad’s best engineers don’t have a full explanation for why there was such a disparate performance.
“Honestly, if we really knew these things, we would have the golden bullet,” he said. “It’s really hard to decide these things.
“You talk to teams that are finding really good competition performance and you talk to teams that have fallen back and there’s a real mystery to the unraveling of it all. That’s why this job is not easy and that’s why it’s so intriguing for all of you guys [the media] and all us boys.”
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, leads at the start
Photo: Alessio Morghese
While he accepts he can’t fully explain why Spa was so difficult and Monza was better, Clear says that as teams gain more experience with the cars, they start to unlock a much better understanding of what’s going on.
“Honestly, we don’t know all the answers and we still don’t understand exactly what happened at Spa,” he said. “We have some ideas and we’ve obviously acted on them.
“We’ve come to Monza, a similar low downforce track to Spa, albeit different, and we think we seem to have understood some of what happened at Spa.
“It may be later in the year that we discover more, but we’re always learning.”
“None of us know all the details because it’s a relative sport and it’s a relative sport all the time and you don’t know what everybody else is doing, there’s a lot of areas where you have to take your best guess pretty much.”
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, passes the beached car of Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari F1-75
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Clear doesn’t think the new generation of ground-effect cars are particularly difficult to understand, but he believes the fact that the rules are in their infancy means teams have a long way to go before they fully understand them.
“I think it’s just because they’re so new,” Clear added. “There’s always going to be a steep learning curve with a new development or a new set of rules, and everyone is on that steep learning curve.
“We saw that at the beginning of the year. Many people said [to us]: “Why is your car so fast at the start of the year?” It’s a relative sport.
“Maybe we arrived just understanding it a little bit better and some people were just finding where their cars were.
“That was the great thing about going into a year with a new regulation. Obviously there is a high performance aspect of your car package, but you also need to understand this car and the drivers understanding of how to drive it.
“With Max’s drivers [Verstappen] quality, Charles [Leclerc] quality carlos [Sainz] quality, you expect these guys to get straight to it. They are human and work on their talent every day and have improved over the year. Maybe they understood more.
“It all comes together at different speeds and different times and on different teams. When it’s a relative sport, you can’t really know all the answers.