The Qatar paddock is abuzz with activity as Formula 1 prepares for the upcoming round of the 2023 season, which takes place this weekend at the 5.4-kilometre Losail International Circuit. There’s an anticipation that Max Verstappen might clinch the championship as early as Saturday during the Sprint Race. Alongside this, several other intriguing factors come into play, including the potential resurgence of McLaren as the second-fastest team.
The spotlight is also on Aston Martin, as fans hope to witness signs of improvement from the team. Meanwhile, the fierce battle for second place between Ferrari and Mercedes rages on. It’s worth noting that this circuit isn’t particularly suited to either team’s strengths.
The SF-23 faces the challenge of showcasing improvements in sustained high-speed cornering and tire degradation, especially under front-end stress. On the other hand, the W14 must take to the track with a well-balanced foundation and a stable rear end setup while being mindful of potential aerodynamic issues.
During the customary press conferences which were held on Thursday afternoon, the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, expressed a mix of concerns and optimism for the weekend ahead. The performance impact of the SF-23’s new floor, introduced at Suzuka, will be closely watched, bearing both advantages and potential drawbacks in mind.
Charles Leclerc: “Many unknowns, but Sprints can help us. The oversteering SF-23 is unpredictable. Vasseur has improved the way of working”
The Losail circuit’s total resurfacing and alterations to the curbs introduce even greater unpredictability: “[There will be] many things we have to learn in a single session. It can therefore go very badly or very well. We prepared as best we could in the simulator, and I hope it will go well.” said Charles Leclerc, answering one of the many questions.
When asked about the Maranello team’s prospects for the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, the Monegasque driver preferred not to go too far because “every time I say something (whether the car will go well or not), the opposite happens during the weekend (laughs).”
The Maranello team, however, hopes to be able to take advantage of the Sprint format: “Usually in the Sprints Races, we’re doing well, so let’s hope it can be like this again.” – Charles Leclerc pointed out.
As the 2023 Formula One championship progressed, the SF-23 demonstrated notable improvements, particularly following the Zandvoort races. The team in Maranello has gained a more comprehensive understanding of various aspects of car setup, particularly in high-load configurations.
However, it’s worth noting that certain weaknesses that were evident earlier in the season may resurface in Qatar. The driver expressed, “The persistent issues remain. Resolving them will require the development of a completely new car, which is our primary goal for next year.” – the Monegasque continued.
Among the primary concerns is the fundamental setup of the SF-23, which still tends toward understeer, a characteristic that doesn’t align with the preferences of the Monegasque driver. Once again, he elaborated on and clarified this aspect: “It’s not that we can’t set a setup with oversteer; all cars can be set that way, but the car becomes inconsistent/unpredictable and, therefore, we have to drive with some understeer, which doesn’t help me with my driving style. I adapted a bit in Japan, and it went well, but there won’t be any particular improvements between now and the end of the season.”
Show your support for Scuderia Ferrari with official merchandise collection! Click here to enter the F1 online Store and shop securely! And also get your F1 tickets for every race with VIP hospitality and unparalleled insider access. Click here for the best offers to support Charles and Carlos from the track!
During this time, McLaren has experienced substantial growth, surpassing most other teams. Leclerc anticipates that Norris and Piastri will continue to lead the charge. However, the Monegasque driver primarily focuses on the future rather than the current moment, especially when it comes to his own prospects: From Zandvoort onwards, we learned a lot. Red Bull remains far ahead. McLaren has improved a lot, and I expect it to be strong because their car is good at medium and high speeds after the updates. I think we are happier with what we have learned, and this can help us take a significant step forward for the future“
Charles Leclerc affirms a more stable SF-23 with reduced performance fluctuations. He further elucidates that the heat is expected to pose less of a problem: “What made Singapore difficult is that there are so many buildings around, and therefore, even if you open the visor, there isn’t enough air. Here, I expect it to be a little better, but it will be tough”
One of the inquiries revolved around Team Principal Frederic Vasseur, who joined Ferrari this year, and what he has contributed in this inaugural year with the Scuderia. Charles Leclerc shared a resolute perspective on his ‘new boss.’: “Fred is super flat emotionally, and that’s super positive in his position. As an Italian team, Ferrari is what I love, the passion. But having this balance with Fred is very positive, with a clear vision when things go wrong and when they go well, and we are continuing to work hard we have always worked like this, but Fred has improved this way of doing things, and it is positive”
Charles Leclerc’s Maranello partner, Carlos Sainz, maintains a similar stance, emphasizing Ferrari’s ability to bring a solid foundational setup to the track and leverage the Sprint Race format. This is especially crucial with the reduction of free practice hours to a single one-hour session.
“We have a strong track record on Sprint weekends as a team, and we hope this can offset some of the circuit’s characteristics.”
Carlos Sainz also points out the uncertainties posed by the new asphalt, curbs, track limits, and the prevailing heat, which, while significant, may have a lesser impact than what they experienced in Singapore.
Media attention then turned to the comparison between Suzuka and Singapore, where Charles Leclerc outperformed Carlos Sainz after the floor update. The Spaniard, however, refuted the notion that this influenced his performance and instead explained that it was primarily a matter of his approach to setting up the weekend, which posed some challenges.
“Charles had a good weekend in Suzuka. I, on the other hand, got lost in experimenting with some things. This season, I chose a few Fridays to try different setup approaches, especially mechanical ones, to try to make the car more drivable, but obviously I chose the wrong weekend, and I didn’t find the right feeling for Qualifying. But in the race, I was strong again, and so I know what to do. It is an approach that may not pay off in the medium term but in the medium to long term. I chose Japan precisely because it had fast sections that we find here and in Austin, and so I was able to test things from there, and that’s what we can do without testing” – the Spaniard pointed out.
The recent addition of the new Ferrari floor appears to have provided a boost to the SF-23. It also displayed effective tire management at the Suzuka circuit in Japan, aligning with the trends observed at Monza and Singapore. However, Carlos Sainz remains cautious and refrains from making any definitive assessments at this point.
“It’s too early to say whether the Tire management has improved or not with the new fund. I want to take some more time to say whether it is true or not.”
Losail International Circuit, this will clearly be a crucial aspect, but the Spaniard also believes that strategy will help as “it will be a race with two stops, and this makes race management easier than one with only one stop. Having said that, we are working a lot on it with the riders and with the setup” – Carlos concluded.