Thanks to a sequence of issues at the opening round of the season in Bahrain, Charles Leclerc will be forced to take an engine penalty at this weekend’s Saudi Arabia GP.
The Monegasque driver was prevented from securing a potential podium finish in Sakhir, with an electronic problem forcing his SF-23 machine to a halt.
Ferrari was already concerned with this aspect of the power unit pre-race, with the Italian squad making a change to Leclerc’s electronics after their first fire-up on Sunday afternoon.
This initial replacement was prompted by irregularities which presented themselves to the team for the first time.
However, this precautionary change was ultimately in vain – as the new electronics in the power unit failed during the race.
Having spent the last week analyzing and better understanding these failures, team principal Fred Vasseur has told members of the media – including formu1a.uno – that Leclerc will take an engine penalty this weekend:
“Over Sunday, we had two different issues. The first one was on Sunday morning when we did the fire-up, and the second one [was] in the race.
“Unfortunately, it was both times the control unit. It’s something that we never experienced in the past, and I hope now it’s under control, that we have a deep analysis of this.
“But unfortunately, we will have to take the penalty in Jeddah because we have a new pool of control units for the season.”
With only two control electronics permitted throughout the season, there were immediate concerns after Bahrain that a grid penalty was possible.
Leclerc’s penalty will take a 10-place grid drop for a change to his CE (control electronics), meaning his Sunday could be a race of damage limitation.
Then again, Safety Cars have made appearances in both Saudi Grand Prix so far, meaning opportunities could still present themselves.
Considering the SF-23 lacked the pace to challenge Red Bull in Sakhir, reliability issues at this early stage are certainly a frustration for the Italian squad.
This is not necessarily a reason to expect reliability issues throughout the year, with last year demonstrating how significantly dynamics can change mid-season.
However, this is evidently a significant blow for Ferrari, whose task of maximizing points in Jeddah will be further complicated by this grid drop.
Almost every team can expect to take a grid penalty at some stage in 2023, but few would have anticipated receiving one in the second round.
Still, provided that reliability does not become a persistent issue for the Maranello squad, the team can still prove its competitiveness by optimizing the SF-23 and learning from its rude awakening in Bahrain.