Upgrades to enhance the performance of the Ferrari SF-23 single-seater are on the horizon for the Maranello team. However, in the meantime, the Italian side has made significant progress in Australia and Azerbaijan through set-up tweaks alone after a disappointing start to the campaign. This progress was demonstrated by Charles Leclerc, the lead driver this weekend, who secured two pole positions during the sprint race rounds on Friday and Saturday morning at the Baku City Circuit.
Unfortunately, Charles Leclerc’s time in the lead of the Azerbaijan Sprint event was short-lived during the shortened Saturday race. Sergio Perez, who has a history of success on street tracks, took advantage of the impressive Red Bull RB19 DRS system and overtook Charles Leclerc before the halfway point. The Monegasque chose not to fight the Mexican, which led to him falling behind by almost 5 seconds by the end of the race. This highlights a clear weakness for the SF-23 car over the course of a race, which needs to be addressed by the Italian side with the updates scheduled for the next events.
The method behind Charles Leclerc’s double pole position achievement
It comes as no surprise that both of Charles Leclerc’s pole laps were quite similar. As the cars hit speeds above 205mph heading towards Turn 1, the Ferrari falls behind the Red Bulls, with Max Verstappen (on Friday) and Sergio Perez (on Saturday) taking the lead. However, the Ferrari man is able to fight back by accelerating quickly to overtake the RB19s and get ahead for the sprint towards Turn 2. Although he can’t match the apex speed of either Red Bull, the SF-23’s acceleration helps him maintain the lead for the remainder of the first sector, leaving little to differentiate between the trio for Turns 3 to 7.
While the Red Bull RB19 cars perform better in the tight castle section, Charles Leclerc outdoes them from the Turn 12 left-hander and maintains his lead for the downhill run to the final turn. The only minor issue for the Ferrari is the slower apex speed at the tricky off-camber Turn 15 left-hander.
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For the longest full-throttle section in the 2023 Formula 1 championship, Charles Leclerc benefits once again from the SF-23’s solid acceleration. He pulls ahead between 90mph and 195mph before the Red Bull cars hit their V-max to eventually gain a 6mph advantage.
Why the Ferrari driver was right not to challenge Sergio Perez in the sprint event
Charles Leclerc had a strong start in the Baku sprint race and managed to keep his lead into Turn 1. He then controlled the safety car restart after Yuki Tsunoda’s incident, but when DRS was activated, he couldn’t resist Sergio Perez’s charge. Even though the DRS zone was shortened by 100 metres, the Mexican overtook Charles Leclerc cleanly before the braking zone into the first turn.
Charles Leclerc admitted that he intentionally didn’t fight back and wanted to preserve his tyres, which eventually led to him finishing 4.463 seconds behind the winner of the Sprint race in Azerbaijan. He couldn’t stay within DRS range of the Red Bull, and from lap 12, Sergio Perez consistently posted high 1m43s while the times set by the Ferrari car gradually worsened.
As the race went on without any pit stops, the medium tyres on the Ferrari began to wear out quickly. The SF-23’s middle sector advantage disappeared as the Mexican conquered the run from Turns 13 to 15. Charles Leclerc also struggled with the final corner and couldn’t match Sergio Perez’s acceleration.
The new format of the Formula One sprint race weekend didn’t provide much long-term data for teams to use in forecasting tire wear. However, Scuderia Ferrari’s inferior tire management, which was initially revealed by the unusually abrasive asphalt in Bahrain in 2023, once again made the Maranello team vulnerable especially against the Austrian side, which remains favourite for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix later today.