Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc may have topped both free practice sessions for the 2019 Italian Grand Prix, but Mercedes was clearly in a league of its own when it came to cornering speed. F1technical.net’s Balázs Szabó is reporting from trackside.
Friday started exactly in the same way as one year ago with the rain playing a key role across the whole first practice session. While drivers had to use the wet-weather tyres in the first part of the session, the track started drying out for the dying minutes of the session, enabling the teams to use Pirelli’s slick tyres. In the end, Leclerc proved fastest with a late attack. However, lap times and track observations were meaningless because of the slippery track surface.
The weather improved for the second session and the track was ready for dry weather tyres. Although a couple of periods of drizzle interrupted the action, most of the drivers were able to complete their preparation for the qualifying and race.
Watching the majority of the second practice close to the track around the high-speed Ascari chicane and the famous Parablica corner, it was quite easy to assess the weaknesses and strengths of the cars. Similar to the pattern seen all across the 2019 season, Ferrari and Mercedes showed a different performance on different places of the circuit.
The W10’s speed through the last three corners were just daunting, particularly around the fast bend of Parabolica. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas was able to brake very late into the long corner, but the real advantage compared with Ferrari’s SF90 came at the middle part of the corner. The W10’s mid-corner speed was incredible due to the fact that both Hamilton and Bottas could apply the throttle a lot earlier than Vettel and Leclerc.
The difference was not only visible by the naked eye, but it was also proven by the difference in engine sound produced by the Ferrari and the Mercedes power unit in Parabolica. Ferrari drivers were carrying much less speed through the entire last corner. The difference in downforce was also evident on the long runs. While Mercedes drivers were precise almost regardless of the condition of their Pirelli tyres, Ferrari drivers were less precise during their high-fuel runs, using different lines. Part of this is the fact that Ferrari could make up for its lack of downforce with the help of the brand-new tyres, but as soon as the tyres start to degrade and lose grip, the car can’t provide the necessary overall grip.
While Ferrari could make up for its deficit in the corners on the longs straights at Spa, the SF90 was gaining less to Mercedes on the full-throttle section of the 5.793km Monza circuit. It will be interesting to see whether it is down to the slightly different setup approach at Monza or Ferrari was holding a bit of engine performance back on Friday to save its brand-new third-specification power unit.