The Ferrari team that will be heading to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is in the opposite condition from one year ago. Currently, the constructors’ standings average is just 9 points per race, however it doesn’t reflect the real performances, albeit modest, especially in the first two races, at the Bahrain International Circuit and in Saudi Arabia.
No one in Maranello is happy with the technical situation but there is a strong belief that they have at least taken the right path in terms of understanding the car to improve it. Fred Vasseur explained that the SF-23 will not have a B version because it will have to improve in every area of the package before deciding “what to keep on the 2024 car and what to remove”.
The winter testing session generated some tension as after discovering that the car was less prepared than expected, there were fears of having to face very complex first races, in unfamiliar territory. In fact, it seemed we saw two versions of the SF-23, two different cars, one in qualifying and one in the race but Fred doesn’t totally agree, at least thinking of Australia: «I don’t think we saw two different cars, in qualifying in Melbourne we didn’t extract the potential while in the race, the performance and the first red flag came against us. Carlos had to pass a lot of cars again and the pace wasn’t great, but still good. I think we did well in the race, but not in qualifying. Sometimes 1 or 2 tenths make the difference.” – the French manager pointed out.
If it is true that Max Verstappen has relatively managed the pace, saving 2-3 tenths from the engine at a certain point in the race, it is also true that Ferrari halved the gap in the race, going from 1.03 seconds on the Jeddah lap to around 6 tenths per lap, first of all thanks to a better set-up. The new floor specification tested in Saudi Arabia and introduced on both single-seaters produced positive results, in particular by reducing bouncing and increasing the overall load. This has generated more aggressive driving from Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, which is very important on these new generation of cars:
“In Melbourne we improved the overall balance and if the drivers can be more aggressive you can easily gain 1 or 2 tenths” – the Ferrari boss pointed out. The fact that the revised floor worked made the engineers breathe a sigh of relief, not so much because of the significant gain, but because the car responded more consistently than in the simulations.
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In this regard, the team principal also confirmed the excellent work done in Maranello by Carlos Sainz this week: the Spaniard probably drove one of the most convincing races in Ferrari until the crash with Fernando Alonso. “Charles Leclerc will do the same in the week after Easter” – Fred Vasseur added. It could also be a barbecue occasion with the guys on the team, which Charles never misses when he can. Despite all the difficulties, the data show that Ferrari’s overall performance in Melbourne is on the rise, the car seemed potentially the least distant from Red Bull, also considering the use of the DRS highlighted by the easy overtaking on Lewis Hamilton, which continues to cause discussion for competition: “The difference was bigger last year than it is now. We hoped to compensate even a little more (in efficiency ed), but the gap was bigger in 2022. We have to improve because they are doing something different and very good.”
The “firepower” of the RB19 when it opens the rear wing remains the subject of study. Fred Vasseur spoke of updates in the works, therefore it seems possible that in Baku we will see wings with a thinner design that improve the efficiency of the SF-23. Ferrari is battling with Mercedes and Aston Martin for second position but the road to recovering points is not easy, one certainly looks to Red Bull which remains the target.
The technicians at Milton Keynes will have to serve the development penalty (-10 % of hours in the wind tunnel and simulations), but Fred Vasseur did not hide his criticism of the ruling on the budget cap: «I remain convinced that the penalty is very light if you consider the development of a season that is worth 1 second, cutting 10% costs perhaps 1 tenth, and then the money you don’t spend on development you can spend elsewhere. I’m not looking for excuses, but if you ask me if the penalty is light, I’ll say yes.”
Speaking of hours in the tunnel, Ferrari will have 15% more development hours than Red Bull until the next milestone in the standings, but 5% less than Mercedes and as much as 25% less than an Aston Martin.