Carlos Sainz is pleased with his improved understanding of Ferrari’s 2023 package, although he believes the characteristics of the Scuderia’s challenger are not much better than last season.
Such a statement would be a shock for the Maranello squad over the winter break, given the excitement and confidence within the team that the SF-23 could compete at the front.
Promising wind tunnel figures were quickly met with a very different picture once Ferrari went on track, as the limitations of the SF-23 (particularly in race trim) became exposed.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are within touching distance of Red Bull in qualifying, but the RB19 is in a league of its own with a higher fuel load.
Tyre degradation remains a significant weakness for the Italian squad, evidenced most recently by the drop-off in Carlos Sainz’s encouraging pace to start the Miami GP.
However, specifically analysing the Spaniard’s affinity with his machinery, Sainz believes he is more capable of extracting the potential of the package underneath him:
“It’s not an easy car. At the moment, we are struggling a bit with unpredictability – with a very tricky car,” he told The Race.
“Which makes putting laps together in quali, race pace, changing conditions, tyre wear, wind, very tricky to predict and very tricky to adapt to.
“As a driver, leaving that aside, I feel like I [now] understand how I need to drive this generation of cars.
“I understand how I want to set up the car to my liking… And that leaves me with less variables to think about going into a race weekend.
“It hasn’t been an easy start, as I said. But I feel like even if the car is possibly even trickier than last year, I understand that trickiness better.”
There is certainly some truth to these comments, with Carlos Sainz generally more closely matched against his teammate Charles Leclerc in 2023 so far.
Unlike last year, where the Spanish driver made a litany of errors to begin his campaign, the first five rounds of this season have gone far more smoothly.
A late penalty in Australia and a nightmare weekend in Baku are still clear blemishes on Sainz’s record, but his qualifying and race head-to-heads against Leclerc (at first glance) are more encouraging.
Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, a deeper analysis shows that his Monegasque teammate still enjoys an advantage in one-lap pace and throughout a race distance.
Outperforming Charles Leclerc is a challenge few would envy, so Sainz’s steady approach to the year is surely a welcome one.
Ferrari’s Fred Vasseur has been complimentary of both his drivers, recognising the difficulties of the SF-23 – which have already caused several errors in qualifying.
Few drivers could match Leclerc’s raw speed, so Sainz is perhaps treated too harshly for the deficit in lap time to his teammate.
With that said, the Spaniard will work to build upon his improved understanding in 2023 to assert himself as a greater threat to Aston Martin and Mercedes at F1’s battle of the front.
Author: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang