Carlos Sainz has collected 44 points aboard his Ferrari after five rounds of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship. His fifth-place position in the standings places him ten points ahead of his Maranello teammate Charles Leclerc, ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix, which is scheduled to take place next weekend. The combined total of the two drivers reaches 78 points, positioning Ferrari just outside the podium, occupied by Red Bull, Aston Martin, and Mercedes, in that order.
What is striking is the huge deficit seen this year as compared to the Milton Keynes side, which comfortably enjoys the top spot with five victories, including four one-two finishes for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. During the turbulent winter, marked by changes in leadership, assorted replacements, and new operational strategies, no one, not even in their worst nightmares, expected to pay such a high price in Maranello. Especially after a 2022 Formula One season that had shown encouraging signs of progress, only to be undermined by operational choices that aimed to shift the pursuit of the world titles to 2023.
The leaders in Maranello were convinced that the SF-23 would prove to be an extraordinarily fast car. The words of Benedetto Vigna still resonate with a strong echo in the minds of the Tifosi, as powerful as the disappointment in acknowledging that the technical failure has been severe and painful.
Ferrari: Management difficulties
Carlos Sainz, a pragmatic driver and a man free from excessive communication, has not hidden the fact that the Italian team’s expectations were very different, and the gap to Red Bull has been even more surprising as it increased over the course of twelve months, despite the regulatory limitations and penalties that were meant to limit the actions of the world champions.
Is it all a lost cause then? No, at least not when considering the perspective of understanding a problematic car. This element is fundamental to any campaign aimed at resolving issues.
“It was more difficult compared to last year; the expectations were different. I felt that 2022 was somewhat of a return to the top for Ferrari, and I feel that we all hoped to at least fight at a similar level. Not just me, but the whole team had that hope, that expectation. Finding ourselves over half a second behind Red Bull has been challenging to handle.” – the Spaniard pointed out.
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There are several problem areas that plague the SF-23, especially regarding tire management and, consequently, race pace. It is during the race phase that the extra grip on a single push lap of the softer compounds cannot be fully utilized. It is precisely under these conditions that the gap to Red Bull dramatically widens. In fact, to be precise, over long distances, the Red Bull is not the only challenge; the Ferrari also struggles against Aston Martin and Mercedes, cars that are easily defeated on Saturdays.
The most troubling aspect for the drivers is the perceived inconsistency in the behavior of the cars, which makes it even more difficult to extract their full potential. “It’s not an easy car. At the moment, we’re struggling a bit with its unpredictability.” The SF-23 is a very complex car, too sensitive to tire wear, wind, and changing temperatures.
Thus, the issues plaguing the Maranello-based team, combined with the outstanding competitiveness of the RB19, have widened the gap between Maranello and Milton Keynes compared to last season. What bothers the Ferrari entourage the most is not being fourth in the Constructors’ Championship or even further back in the drivers’ standings; what hurts the most is the difference with Red Bull.
Being behind but knowing that there is an opportunity to secure pole position and win every weekend would make it easier to accept because it would indicate that the SF-23 has some inherent potential. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as explained by Formula 1 expert Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica.
Ferrari: some promising aspects
It’s not all doom and gloom in Maranello. Amidst the many difficulties that cloud the picture, there is a ray of hope represented by two elements. The first directly concerns the driver, who is said to be more self-aware when it comes to the new generation of cars. The second refers to a staff that has finally understood where to focus their efforts on the SF-23.
“As a driver, I feel like I understand how I should drive this generation of cars. I understand how I want to set up the car to my liking, and this leaves me with fewer variables to think about during the weekend. It hasn’t been an easy start, but I feel that even if the car is more challenging than last year, I better understand this difficulty and can set up and drive the car in my own way,” explained the Spanish driver.
Understanding is an aspect that Carlos Sainz has been struggling with since the first moment he stepped into the F1-75, the predecessor of the controversial 2023 car. Clearly, adapting to the “F1 next gen” is more complex in the presence of a challenging technical framework. Therefore, the eventual solution to certain problems can only strengthen the process of personal progress for the former McLaren driver.
Carlos Sainz has hinted that the engineers are on the right track, even though the outcome of the work undertaken cannot be predicted: “After the first races, we identified the weaknesses in our package. That’s why I’m quite calm about it; I feel that we have identified the problems and, above all, we have an idea of which direction we need to follow in the development.” – he explained.
Carlos, who still has two years left on his contract with Scuderia Ferrari, is not thinking about renewal or an inscrutable future. The driver knows that this technical era will end in late 2025 and is aware that, given Red Bull’s advantage, it won’t be easy to make a comeback. That’s why every effort he makes is aimed at overcoming this complex and unforeseen situation together with the Maranello team.
In the Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari hopes to bring a package of updates that should rejuvenate the SF-23 car. Will it be enough to get closer to the RB19? It’s hard to imagine, but the important thing will be to chart an effective development path because, echoing Frederic Vasseur’s thoughts, the Prancing Horse does not intend to discard the current aerodynamic philosophy to passively copy Red Bull. The car is considered valid; it just needs to be made to work. It won’t be easy, but no one intends to give up, starting with Carlos Sainz.