Ferrari suffered its worst performance on a Grand Prix weekend this year. After topping out the time sheets in FP1, the team slumped to being the third-fastest team on the grid.
For the first time, the Ferrari was closer to the tempo of teams like Alpine, than it was to the Red Bull and the Mercedes. Its drivers finished the race more than one minute behind race winner Max Verstappen. But why?
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Ferrari a distant third in Mexico
There is one major reason for that. As the Ferrari duo, Sainz and Leclerc, confirmed, their car is not dealing very well with the high altitude of the track in Mexico City. At 2285 meters above sea level, Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is the highest race track F1 races at.
The implications of higher altitudes
This altitude results in much thinner air – approximately 25%. This means that the car’s downforce will be 25% less efficient. The air is so thin in fact, that 2022 F1 cars managed speeds of up to 350 km/h with aero profiles similar to those seen in Monaco.
Ferrari’s engine woes
However, the bigger issue for Ferrari is that the Turbo needs to work harder to compensate. And the engine has less air to be cooled down. As we all know, Ferrari has made huge gains with its engine this year. On the other hand, the team is now more susceptible to reliability woes.
Throughout the year, Leclerc has suffered two major engine failures, as did Sainz. In Spain, Charles retires with a Turbo and MGU-H issues. Then, in Baku, both cars retired – Leclerc with an ICU problem, while Sainz had hydraulics failure. The last time Ferrari suffered a major engine issue was in Austria, where Sainz’s Turbo and MGU-H gave up in a fiery fashion.
Why does the Turbo fail
In 2022, Ferrari switched to a split-turbo design. This means that the turbine and the compressor section are placed further apart (often in the form and the back of the engine). They are connected by a shaft, which is precisely what fails on the Ferrari power unit.
The quick fix
Perhaps, a lot of resources were saved by changing engine components, while they were still salvageable. Carlos Sainz is on his fifth ICU and Turbocharger, whereas Charles Leclerc has taken six of each.
And in our view, this is why Ferrari struggled in the Mexican GP. Probably, the team has purposefully tuned down its power unit, the turbo, in particular, knowing that it might not get to the end of the race.