The front end of the Ferrari is weak. We’ve been saying this for a while, and the confirmations have not been delayed in coming. The drivers themselves highlight it, especially Charles Leclerc, who doesn’t find this “characteristic” to his liking. The SF-23 has caused significant problems for the young Monegasque driver. Despite the car being more manageable at the moment, it continues to create several headaches for the Vice World Champion. Fortunately, the wind issue seems to be a closed matter.
Yes, because when your performance depends too much on gusts of wind, it means that something went wrong in the design phase. There’s also a psychological aspect that, while seemingly simple, cannot be ignored. Facing a competitive season with the knowledge that the slightest chance of victory is zero is quite disheartening. Especially for someone like Charles, who has a strong desire for victory in his blood.
That’s why, unlike his teammate, we’ve often seen car number 16 in overdrive. The reason is straightforward: while Carlos Sainz was “content” with the best possible result, satisfied with maximizing the available resources, Charles Leclerc risked everything for a better position. This scenario drives the driver to take much greater risks, and the margin for error thins significantly.
But we know the former Alfa Romeo driver well: for him, second place means defeat, let alone a points finish. This is why Charles looked for setups that were more challenging to manage but could potentially offer a performance advantage. On some occasions, this approach worked well, while on others, the opposite happened. And it doesn’t matter if the Spaniard is ahead in the standings.
Ferrari SF-23: The Need for a Solid Front End Hinders Charles Leclerc
Delving further into specifics, just yesterday, we discussed the front end of the scarlet car. The technical report aimed to explain all the issues related to the intrinsic struggles of the SF-23’s front end. The main suspect is the front suspension, which, unlike the much-criticized rear, appears to be the real mechanical weak point. After all, the strong point of the red car is its traction, and the “arrow” suspension system, incidentally copied from Red Bull, has provided significant answers in this regard.
Adrian Newey knows what he’s doing. We’re well aware of that. Last week, the genius from Stratford-upon-Avon revealed how, in defining the car, it was crucial not to make any mistakes regarding the chassis and suspension. This is because the budget cap significantly complicated any corrections to these critical components. Red Bull, therefore, made it a top priority to have two very robust suspension systems, giving the department responsible for vehicle dynamics a free hand.
The same cannot be said to have happened in Maranello. Although the sporting management has undoubtedly “addressed” the issue, a “poisoned” judgment due to miscalculations has effectively resulted in a weak front end. And this brings us back to the present and the recent past, as analyzed by Leclerc. The Monegasque driver prefers a very solid front end. He likes to set up the entry into corners in an aggressive manner to control a more responsive rear end.
We’re talking about a scenario that was widely experimented with during the 2020 Formula 1 season, where the SF1000, pushed by a power unit weakened by the infamous Binotto-FIA agreement, was loaded at the rear to try and regain top speed. Based on this, considering his driving style, Charles tried to build his fortunes which, as we know in this championship, have often been inconsistent. However, this limiting condition has partly allowed for in-depth study of the car to understand its flaws that, theoretically, should no longer appear from 2024.
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc Struggles More with Understeer Than Carlos Sainz
Challenging the rear end of a ground-effect car, especially when the aerodynamic platform isn’t stable, is a quite difficult task. But, as we’ve understood, Charles has never been afraid to do it. Ferrari has improved a lot over the season. Corrections to the aerodynamic package, combined with targeted setup analysis, have allowed the Scuderia to access greater performance. This is despite several elements that still need to be managed, trying to mitigate weaknesses while optimizing the car’s strengths.
In all this, given the considerations from the previous section, Charles Leclerc (like his teammate) has to contend with a greater amount of understeer, opting for a sturdier front end that can potentially unlock more performance in his hypothetical handling. It’s a complicated compromise to manage, but at least according to the Monegasque’s calculations, it should allow for more pushing. The team has always been in agreement, allowing the Monegasque driver to explore this setup, even though the results have often not favored this approach.
An example of the ineffectiveness of this measure can be found in Singapore, where Carlos “dominated” the scene and brought home the only victory of the 2023 Formula One season. Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc, while still quick, didn’t have the same pace as his teammate, struggling with significant understeer. This was despite, once again, it’s worth mentioning, strategic decisions in the pit that certainly hampered Charles’s race, relegating him to lower positions at a critical moment.
The Monegasque certainly doesn’t like understeer, and of course, it would be better if it didn’t exist. However, if the desire to optimize rotation, associated with the need for a sturdier front end, overcomes the negatives of this setup, the choice could be practical in certain operational contexts. Not always, though, as the Monegasque driver, on several Saturday mornings, found himself adopting the exact same setup as Carlos Sainz.
Source: Alessandro Arcari for FUnoanalisitecnica