Ferrari AF Corse driver James Calado says the team’s struggles for outright performance in Bahrain haven’t come as a surprise.
In the three practice sessions, Ferrari’s 499Ps didn’t come close to setting the best lap time, and wound up with the No. 50 qualifying ahead of the No. 51 in fifth and sixth respectively, both cars over a second off the pole time. With the drivers’ title on the line, things will need to turn around rapidly if Ferrari’s drivers are to challenge Toyota’s crews in the finale.
The Bahrain circuit is notoriously tough on tires, though. This is due to its abrasive tarmac, which has never been resurfaced since the circuit opened, and the nature of the layout, which features a lot of heavy braking and hard acceleration. Couple that with the fact that over a stint, the 499P has often struggled to look after its tires during the season.
From the start of practice in Fuji the 499Ps have not shown the same level of outright performance as they did in the run from Sebring to Le Mans, which was of course highlighted by the historic victory at La Sarthe in June. Calado, though, says this is in line with the team’s expectations, due to the nature of the circuits since Le Mans and the steps made by its Hypercar competitors.
“We knew this track would hurt us a lot in terms of performance but the gap has been big so far and we are scratching our heads,” he told RACER. “There is no doubt we are struggling and trying to improve.”
Part of that effort is focused on maximizing the car’s performance over a stint.
“We’ve written off one-lap performance — we don’t think we can beat Toyota on one lap,” Calado continued. “In the past, we could compete and get poles, but we’ve changed the car a bit to improve tire degradation and long runs.
“With the weather and red flags so far this week, though, it’s disrupted our plans. Before the final practice we weren’t able to complete long runs so we didn’t know where we are. When you look at numbers, it’s no surprise for me. We are doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
It’s a similar story for the drivers in the sister No. 50 Ferrari, who are still mathematically in the hunt for the drivers’ title but 36 points adrift from the No. 8 Toyota drivers in the standings with just 39 points available. Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Antonio Giovanazzi are 31 points back in the No. 51. Thus, Nicklas Nielsen says he and his teammates are forced to take a wait and see approach to the race.
“I think under the circumstances here it’s quite difficult for us, like it was in Japan,” he told RACER. “We have to push a lot to keep up with the others now, which is making it harder for us on the tires.
“In terms of lap time, there isn’t a big difference between the two compounds available (from Michelin). In the race, I think we will see teams change between them. We saw yesterday that some used hards, some mediums, some mixed. For most of the race, though, I think we will see most cars use the hard tires.
“It’s going to be difficult for either car to do anything in terms of the championship,” he admitted when asked about the No. 50’s chances of fighting for the title. “Especially for us, the chances of winning are very slim. We will have to see where we are after a couple of hours. If the other car is far ahead, that’s how it will end, but if there is a chance for us we will go for it.”