Analysis: How Ferrari and Red Bull went backwards at Spa

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Belgium, Circuit de Spa-Francorchampsbe

Ferrari and Red Bull may have felt shocked throughout the qualifying session for the Belgian GP when they realized that Mercedes-powered Force India, Williams and Lotus jump shipped them.

Ferrari and Red Bull were at the very front at the Hungarian Grand Prix, posing a true challenge to the Mercedes factory team. Ferrari managed to triumph with Vettel while Red Bull Racing scored its first double-podium of the year. In fact, Mercedes' Niki Lauda admitted that telemetry data showed the Red Bull was faster than the F1 W05 in 4 corners of the Hungaroring circuit.

Four weeks later, both Red Bull Racing and Ferrari showed promising pace in both Friday practice sessions, not only showing solid single-lap pace, but consistent race simulations as well. Both teams dropped back however on Saturday, with Mercedes' rumoured qualifying mode providing huge huge boost for a limited number of laps.

Despite all that Red Bull and Ferrari surely did not expect to slip down the order that much as they have an arguably stronger chassis then the likes of Force India, Williams or Lotus.

Similar to their performances at the Hungaroring, Vettel and Ricciardo were nip and tuck in qualifying. While Ricciardo was 0.035s faster in Hungary, at Spa he proved 0.122s slower than the Ferrari driver. The duo however was 7 tenths down on Lewis Hamilton, but at Spa they faces a deficit or 1.5s and 1.6s respectively. Already in Hungary, it was clear that Mercedes gained in the first sector due to extra power, were matched in the twisty second second and again had the upper hand in the final sector, due to better conserving their tyres.

In contrast to the three other Mercedes-propelled teams the pair enjoyed a clear advantage in Hungary which turned into a deficit in Belgium. Williams had a gap of 5 tenths, Lotus and Force India a gap of 1,1 second to Ferrari and Red Bull. However, at Spa Ricciardo was around a tenth, Vettel around two tenths slower then this trio.

The ominous result is that Ferrari and Red Bull lost around 8 tenths to Mercedes, 6 tenths to Williams and 1.2 seconds to Lotus and Force India between Hungaroring and Spa.

Looking more specifically at Ferrari, it is striking that in the middle sector at Spa-Francorchamps, exactly where downforce plays a crucial role, Ferrari lost 1.1s to Mercedes, 5 tenths to Williams, 3 tenths to Lotus and was on par with Force India, this knowing the Ferrari has actually been rather strong through different types of corners throughout the season.

Seeing that Ferrari were much closer to Mercedes in the high speed sections, the team, just like Red Bull Racing, have had to compromise their ideal set-up by lowering downforce in a bid to protect themselves in the race and not to make themselves too vulnerable on the straights.

The result is that at the end of the Kemmel straight Vettel was just 2 km/h slower then Mercedes and Lotus, 5 km/h slower then Force India and 3 km/h faster then Williams. It indicates that Williams which is usually among the fastest on the straights tried to mask the lack of cornering speed by sacrificing top speed. Red Bull was 6 km/h slower then Vettel.

The downforce compromise is further confirmed by the fact that the Ferrari-powered Sauber which is usually at the sharp end on the top speed list is surprisingly 3 km/h slower then Vettel’s Ferrari despite using the same "Canada-upgraded" Ferrari power unit.

The fact that Ferrari and Red Bull lost a shocking amount of time to the four Mercedes-powered teams indicate that the German engine-manufacturer still holds an ominous advantage in terms of outright power. Even if Ferrari was said to have managed to make considerable steps on its power unit over the winter, its heavily-compromised setup shows that the power deificit to Mercedes is still giant.