It was supposed to be a race of resurgence, and instead, it risks becoming the final exam. The Spanish Grand Prix is a crucial stage in Ferrari’s tumultuous journey. The SF-23 is a difficult and demanding machine to drive, even more challenging to fine-tune. Its operating window is so narrow that there are always too many variables influencing its behavior. And inevitably, something arises that prevents Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz from reaping what they sow.
The red car experiences abrupt and unpredictable changes in performance, causing it to plummet in the paddock’s rankings. During the winter, it seemed like the car capable of challenging Red Bull: the illusion dissolved already in the pre-season tests in Bahrain, but the hope was to remain the second force, counting on growth through developments throughout the championship.
A perspective that the results are depressing: Carlos Sainz finished sixth in the Principality, while Charles Leclerc only managed eighth. The Spaniard is sixth in the Drivers’ Championship, closely followed by his teammate. The Scuderia is fourth in the Constructors’ standings, thirty points behind Aston Martin, the great surprise of this 2023 F1, despite the fact that it only races with Fernando Alonso.
The assessment is simply devastating. Fred Vasseur’s management is severely lacking: this Ferrari has gotten stuck just like the Romagna region trapped in mud that, as the muddy water recedes, clings to ankles and solidifies, hindering quick and agile movements. But while the flood-affected territory does not succumb to disaster and fights to quickly return to “normality,” in Maranello, they have not yet been able to assess the… damages. Because the list is long and ever-changing.
Even the certainty of being able to fight for pole position in Monte Carlo has crumbled. Red Bull has confirmed that they fear no track with Max Verstappen: the Dutchman adds his own touch when the RB19 doesn’t seem to excel, doing so in such a natural way that the impossible even seems easy.
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In Maranello, they chose to go to Monaco without any updates in order to have time to fine-tune the setup: a commendable initiative. It’s a pity that Aston Martin, Alpine, and Mercedes introduced upgrades in the Principality’s roller coaster and performed better than the red car, while the two Maranello drivers never found the necessary confidence to pull off a remarkable lap.
In FP3, extreme solutions were sought in terms of ride heights, and Charles Leclerc found himself with a “hopping” car that bounced around, with bottoming preventing him from tackling the swimming pool chicanes with the necessary aggression. Instead of creating a car that could handle the roughness of the streets and curbs, they tried to extract more performance from a car that didn’t have enough to surpass everyone.
The result was that before qualifying, they had to take a step back with less extreme solutions, without the driver having the time to evaluate what car he would have in his hands for qualifying. There’s no point in revisiting the mistakes made during the race, but it’s clear that if Ferrari was hoping for an abnormal race to gather some meager satisfaction, not even the rain helped change a well-defined picture.
On the contrary, an additional variable only served to further disrupt strategic plans, leaving Maranello fans dumbfounded and unsure of what to believe in anymore. Monte Carlo was supposed to be the benchmark of a growing Ferrari, before the introduction of updates in Barcelona.
In Montmelo, we will see side pods more in the style of Red Bull, as well as updates to the floor and suspension. It’s an important package that has been discussed for months, launched immediately after the initial flops. It arrives on a perfect track to introduce innovations (it was the preferred track for developing the new cars during winter testing), so everything must work perfectly right from the start.
We are facing a Ferrari team aware that they have lost ground while others were growing. It’s a team that must react but will have to find answers quickly, without the need for too much “understanding.” Weeks of simulations may have yielded some encouraging results: in Catalunya, they would like to see the two drivers smile because the worst will be behind them. Otherwise, it would be better to think about 2024, saving resources and energy for a new project that will have to be designed from a blank sheet of paper.