- The crucial difference between Spa and Monza last year was that at Spa Ferrari was taking 1.1s out of Mercedes down the straights, with Mercedes only clawing 0.4s of that back through the downforce-demanding middle sector, leaving Charles Leclerc on pole by 0.7s.
That, on its own, was not so difficult to fathom. The Ferrari lacked the Merc’s downforce as it was a lower-drag car by concept. Couple that with a power advantage and the pattern was explainable on this outlier of a circuit.
Logically, that advantage should only have increased at Monza which places even more emphasis on that straightline performance – only without the pesky inconvenience of a very downforce-demanding middle sector. The Lesmos and Parabolica reward downforce but form a much smaller proportion of the lap than Spa’s sector two. So surely with that drag and power advantage, the Ferrari would be even further clear, right?
Except that’s not what happened at all. Ferrari only just scraped pole at Monza, with Leclerc mere hundredths ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. That closeness continued in the race too with Leclerc seeing off very hard challenges from Hamilton first and subsequently Valtteri Bottas.
That unusual pattern was actually partly explainable. Mercedes knew that part of Ferrari’s big Spa qualifying advantage was down to Mercedes’s under-performance. Mercedes was in a set-up quandary and never did get the car quick through the Bus Stop and La Source. By contrast, it found its sweet spot very nicely at Monza.
But that was info privy only to Mercedes at the time. In the meantime it got others theorising about how such an anomalous pattern might occur – and fuel flow became the focus. Because if you were somehow getting around the fuel flow limit, you couldn’t use it all the time without needing way more than the regulation 110kg. So you’d use it where it would bring the most lap time – out of the corners before the squaring force of drag made it less effective. The Ferrari’s acceleration out of Parabolica was indeed quite startling (as shown below).
Last weekend at Spa, Charles Leclerc qualified almost .5 seconds slower than his pole lap last year. Both Ferraris ended up 13th and 14th, well outside the points and one of the worst results for Ferrari in the history of F1. They weren't even the fastest Ferrari-powered cars on the track, with Kimi Räikkönen's Alfa Romeo passing them both in the race.
Meanwhile Lewis Hamiltons Mercedes was over a second faster in qualifying than last years pole lap. The ironic consequence of Ferrari cheating last season is that Mercedes improved even more and have become almost untouchable at the front.