Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, needs to analyse the rate at which Charles Leclerc’s tyres fell off during the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend.
The Monegasque went into the weekend knowing that, realistically, he needed a win to keep his title hopes alive, and the wet conditions made for another unpredictable round of a thrilling 2022 season.
Carlos Sainz ended second on the opening practice session behind Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, with Leclerc behind in third, while the 90-minute run later on Friday saw the Scuderia ease off the tyres, knowing they would need them later in the weekend.
Max Verstappen, who was looking to wrap up the title in Japan, took pole in much nicer conditions on Saturday, before the drivers were greeted by a soggy circuit for the main event.
Sainz’s crash on the opening lap on Intermediates prompted a lengthy red flag delay, but race control managed to find a gap in the weather to restart the race on extreme Wets.
Leclerc’s tyres quickly started to wear as the track got drier, and after the switch onto Intermediates, the rubber continued to look ever angrier, with degradation affecting the Italian side much more than it was Red Bull.
Verstappen won the race by 27 seconds, and Leclerc’s tyres were so worn at the end that he could not get the car slowed for the final chicane while defending from Sergio Perez.
The Mexican got second when the Ferrari driver was penalised for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and when full points were handed out after the 28-lap sprint, Verstappen was crowned a two-time champion.
Leclerc and Sainz were given a revised floor last weekend, which ultimately did little for tyre life, but it performed as the Maranello-based team were anticipating.
“It worked as expected,” explained Binotto.
“We tested it early on Friday but it was fully wet, so on Saturday morning we had data in dry conditions and the floor was working as we were hoping for.”
As for the tyres, Binotto has suggested that Leclerc pushed them too hard, too soon in his pursuit of Verstappen after the restart.
“On degradation, we saw already on Friday that by pushing too much on the first lap, we simply just destroyed the front tyres in a way that we were not able to recover,” he said.
F1 has seen many tyre suppliers starting with Dunlop until the 1971 season, then moving onto Goodyear and Firestone until Bridgestone and Michelin took over and were dominating until Michelin pulled out in 2006.
Bridgestone enjoyed the monopoly until 2010 when Pirelli took over and is still the sole supplier of the tyres.
“We need to work together with Charles and the engineers to review the very first lap where maybe he was attacking a bit too much, trying to close the gap and then, as a consequence did not have the right pace for the following laps.
“On a single lap, the pace and speed were there but in terms of tyre management, certainly, we could have done something different.”
Red Bull must avoid being beaten by 18 points by Ferrari at the United States Grand Prix next weekend if they are to seal the Constructors’ Championship.