The new SF-23 floor may not have delivered much in terms of pure performance, but Charles Leclerc has given it a thumbs up because it makes the red car more consistent. The Monegasque driver had good sensations because the Red Bull of Verstappen doesn’t seem too far away. Sainz conducted many experiments, and when he puts everything together, there will be a chance to challenge the world champion in qualifying. The Scuderia performs better in high-speed corners.
It may not be Singapore, but Ferrari has started the Suzuka weekend by confirming good signs of improvement. Behind the day’s leader, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz in FP1 and Charles Leclerc in FP2 have been confirmed, with the Monegasque driver also setting the second-best long-run time, always behind the championship leader.
The first piece of information to emerge after the two free practice sessions is related to the new floor brought to Japan, tested in FP1 by Charles Leclerc alone and mounted on Carlos Sainz’s car for the afternoon session. “We’ve received the feedback we expected,” confirmed Charles. “I don’t think there’s a big gain in terms of performance, but overall, it has made the car more consistent, and it’s a good feeling.”
The first day of on-track activity at Suzuka saw a more comfortable Leclerc with the SF-23. Charles was the closest driver to Verstappen’s times (0.320 seconds behind in the qualifying simulation), a margin that makes a big difference in the first sector. “It went a bit better,” he confirmed. “In the last two or three races, I struggled a bit with the car’s balance. Today, I changed my driving style a bit, and I feel that the handling is better. Of course, it’s only one day, so we have to keep pushing to make another step forward tomorrow. Red Bull seems to be extremely fast this weekend, but I don’t think we’re too far away.”
The work done after Zandvoort, more and more a turning point in the Ferrari season, is paying off on all types of tracks, a confirmation that has also come on the feared Suzuka circuit. “We’re understanding our car much better than before Zandvoort,” confirmed Leclerc, “and this helps us work in the right direction. The margins compared to McLaren and Mercedes are very small, but when we manage to get the car in the right operating window, we know we can be up front. That’s what we’ve done in the last few races, and that’s the goal for tomorrow, but everything has to be perfect. I fear, however, that Red Bull is unfortunately more competitive, we’ll see.”
Carlos Sainz ended the day in fourth place, two-tenths behind Charles Leclerc, a gap recovered in the second sector. Carlos focused mainly on aerodynamic setup and mechanical testing, trying different configurations. “We experimented with some solutions,” explained the Spaniard . “There were quite a few tests, and when you’re involved in this type of testing, it’s a bit difficult to find your rhythm. But that was our goal, now we have to put it all together, and hopefully, tomorrow the car will be what I want.”
For the poleman and winner of Singapore, it won’t be easy to bother the Red Bulls, but Carlos believes that especially in qualifying, not everything is written. “Max seems to be quite competitive,” he reiterated. “But in a single lap, we can be close. I don’t know if it will be enough to challenge the Red Bulls, but it will certainly be a very close fight with McLaren and Mercedes. There will be six of us vying for the second row, but I’m convinced that if we do a good job tomorrow, we can put ourselves in a good position.”