Mark Hughes compares the strengths of the Red Bull vs Ferrari situation to determine which of the championship contenders is best positioned to dominate the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend.
Despite the current reliability-skewed championship points, the Ferrari F1-75 and Red Bull RB18 are now the two fastest cars.
Overall, the Ferrari appears to have the advantage, although the Red Bull has shown an advantage in end-of-straight speeds thus far. The longer a circuit’s flat-out top gear sections are, the more valuable that Red Bull attribute becomes – and it’s certainly no surprise that Red Bull’s solitary pole and victory so far came on the ultra-fast Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Red Bull vs Ferrari: The Ferrari’s advantages
So far, the Ferrari’s advantage has mostly been in low-speed turns and acceleration. The new Imola circuit features a long high-speed stretch (Sector 1) followed by a series of downforce and acceleration-rewarding bends connected by short straights.
The ultimate trade-off between downforce and drag will vary from car to car when choosing a rear wing level. One of the primary criteria affecting this will be the effectiveness of the car’s underbody in creating downforce (downforce generated by the floor creates only around one-third of the drag as downforce created by the wings.
Another important factor will be engine performance. Perhaps the Ferrari’s floor generates more downforce, or the Red Bull’s floor generates more power or a combination of the two.
Looking at the GPS traces around the three circuits we’ve visited so far, we can also tell that the Ferrari is either shorter-geared or more powerful at low rpm. At each of the three tracks so far visited, there have been corners where the Ferrari is geared up on the Red Bull, implying that its overall gearing may be shorter.
Shorter gearing and more power application would go a long way toward compensating for the Red Bull’s higher end-of-straight speed. If a corner exit advantage onto the straight is large enough, it can be maintained for a long time before the lower drag car allows it to drive faster.
Red Bull vs Ferrari: Red Bull’s strong sector
The margins are tiny enough that differences in the quality of the various drivers’ laps could overcome them, but the evidence so far suggests that the Ferrari is faster on a wider range of circuits.
When it comes to Imola, the first sector (from the start/finish to the Tosa braking zone) is a long flat-out blast interspersed with two chicanes. That appears to be Red Bull’s strongest sector based on what we’ve observed so far.
The rest of the lap’s frequent acceleration and power-rewarding passages (particularly up the hill out of Acque Minerale) appear to have been designed just for the Ferrari.