change the car very little, as does

change the car very little, as does

Of Julian Duchess

Verstappen dominates the World Cup, the first updates of the season are expected in Budapest. From Ferrari to Mercedes, the fight for second place is wide open

Two races away from the summer break (this weekend we're racing in Budapest) the elusive Red Bull although without having produced large aerodynamic packages. In Hungary there is talk of a first significant development, set for mid-season which would also have effects on the GP following Spa. It means introducing innovations to improve the efficient aerodynamic load at medium-low speeds.

Yet, in the first part of the season, there was a gradual development of the RB19, a very delicate approach - according to the engineers. Several teams have shown a certain aggressiveness in the process of introducing new parts, justified by the attempt to reduce the gap from the front. For the Milton Keynes technical office, led by Adrian Newey and Pierre Wach, there was no need to overturn its concepts. Consequently, the RB19, compared to its rivals, is the single-seater that most resembles that of the previous year. It was logical. Not only did it work, but it also shortened the comprehension times on the track.

Apart from Haas, which can't help but follow Ferrari's development with a certain delay, taking a look at the other eight single-seaters on the grid, nobody is able to do what Red Bull does. Very little intervention. Ferrari, McLaren, Alfa Sauber, Alpine up to the surprising Williams, not to mention Mercedes and Aston Martin, all the updated cars have become aesthetically (hence aerodynamically) different from the cars of late 2022.

On the single-seaters driven by Verstappen and Perez, not counting the rear and front wings - modifications that are simple adaptations to the different circuits - it turns out that a first step was taken in Baku, with refinements, such as the measurements of the side air intakes, for example. Red Bull didn't need to change, going strong from the first day of testing in Bahrain. It is possible that the other teams will approach the second part of the season by exploiting the limits of the hours in the wind tunnel of the world champion team, due to the overrun of the budget cap for the 2021 season. In Milton Keynes they must reconcile the evolution of the 2023 single-seater with that of 2024.

The hour limits for the wind tunnel

Dominating the World Championship allows you to use no more than 70% of the total hours of development, to which must be added the 10% penalty which according to the engineers is worth 1/10. To give an example, McLaren with 90% of total hours can potentially recover half a second. Not a perfect equation though. For designers, 2024 has already begun. The priority required of the department heads is to carefully choose where to intervene and if there is a team that is able to do it on aerodynamics, Red Bull. The reigning champion team gently upgrades while others bring big packages, however only McLaren has progressively cut the gap significantly. Someone even worsened, like the Alpine.

McLaren, real comeback?

It is not known whether McLaren can replicate the Silverstone performance,

nevertheless under certain conditions the MCL60 seems competitive. The Red Bull and Aston Martin-inspired developments have paid off and do nothing but show the Mercedes supplier - and everyone else - what is the clearest direction to inspire for next year. The papaya car has made a significant quantum leap in high-speed corners but remains nearly 10km/h slower than Red Bull or Ferrari on the straight. He can't overcome the drag problem this year, on the other hand he has found load at medium-high speeds. The gap in 2022 was quite high, but in Austria there was a clear improvement, Norris got the front row at Silverstone, with a very fast Piastri. The temperatures have helped but it cannot be an isolated case.

Some believe we could see an equally strong McLaren in Budapest, however if that were to happen we would be facing the so called silver bullet as it would mean that Woking has leapfrogged 6 cars in one fell swoop to become the new second force. Hard to believe while praising what an excellent development work. The McLaren index cannot yet be defined as stable in the championship stock exchange, for the forecasts they must be revised upwards. Andrea Stella - as team principal - soon began an interesting reinforcement work, hiring experts of the caliber of Rob Marshall and David Sanchez for 2024 who will form with Peter Prodromou what he himself has defined as the technical pyramid.

Why doesn't Alonso's Aston Martin shine anymore?

Why did Aston Martin drift away from the top after a surprising start to the season? From Barcelona something changed. Montreal was an easy trip for Lawrence Stroll's team, the only one in the last four races where Alonso achieved an undisturbed podium. The technical department has recently moved into the new ultra-modern Silverstone factory, however some headaches have arisen. A new fund was introduced in Barcelona that promised significant gains. After the promises kept in the winter, the expectation was justified. Nonetheless, the British team's performance plummeted, at Silverstone the AMR23 was even the fifth force in the field. The first races showed very precise data: the car designed by Dan Fallows' staff was the most consistent behind the Red Bull, especially between qualifying and the race. Cornering was of a high standard, the main problem was finding more efficiency on the straight to shorten the distances from Verstappen and Perez. The engineers brought in aerodynamic packages in an effort to reduce drag and increase the DRS' effective rate, and they succeeded. But to achieve real breakthrough the car shouldn't have to lose cornering performance. Objective not achieved. At Silverstone Alonso and Stroll were too exhausted to push the tires properly. In Austria, some slipping problems on the fast section limited performance a bit. The balance seems to have been affected. Something changed, despite everything Alonso says he's not too worried. Checking the percentages, the gap remained very consistent between qualifying and the race but clearly down from the top, against a Red Bull which, as we said, has developed relatively little. We need to find out if AMR23, after making some missteps, can recover quickly perhaps with more km and with a better understanding of the current package. Both of these teams are now in a close fight with Mercedes and Ferrari for the second force role.

Wide open fight for the constructors' second place

The Budapest and Spa layouts are very different from each other and from the rest of the championship - without neglecting the new tires in play. It is impossible to predict which team will come closest to Verstappen if Red Bull is also now pushing performance higher. McLaren, Ferrari and Aston depend a lot on the type of track. In the meantime, the constructors' classification sees Mercedes in second place. In absolute terms she may not have been the closest to the summit but, considering the means available, she is optimizing every chance better than anyone else.

July 20, 2023 (change July 20, 2023 | 1:24 pm)

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