Ferrari’s season, apart from Singapore and a few other flashes of the SF-23 and its drivers on circuits that matched well with the characteristics of the 675 project, was disappointing.
When did the men from Maranello understand that 2023 would continue the difficulties shown in the second part of the previous year? Since the first kilometres were completed in the Fiorano shakedown of February, where the car did not respond as the Italian team’s technicians expected.
At the end of the season, Leclerc and Sainz finished just 5 points apart. However, it was the #55 who scored the only victory of the season, thanks to a better understanding of the car after the summer break and unlocking performance on the SF-23 with settings more easily digested by the Spaniard’s driving style.
Despite many complaints about a weak front end, one of the SF23’s Achilles’ heels, Leclerc’s start to the season had still performed well compared to his teammate.
But the most important steps forward were shown at the end of the season – after the introduction of the floor in Japan – which allowed the young talent who grew up in the Ferrari Driver Academy to express his true potential.
At the beginning of the season, Sainz was more comfortable in qualifying than Leclerc, who lost out thanks to Barcelona’s update
Despite the difficult start to the season for the entire Italian team, for the Monegasque, the gap inflicted on his teammate has never been so wide during the season that just ended when the SF-23 was a real qualifying machine. ‘
While tyre management suffered enormously in the race, we are talking about a gap of around three-tenths of a second, with a strong predominance of Leclerc in the slower sectors.
Sainz ‘won’ in the Australian qualifying, marked by uncertain weather and other factors, and took advantage of Leclerc’s mistake in Miami.
In the race, the situation wasn’t much different. However, the pace was influenced by Leclerc’s mistake in Miami and the penalty in Arabia, with a gap of around two-tenths per lap until the first GP on American soil.
However, from Spain, it is as if a new world championship has begun. The SF-23 has become another car, thanks to the important, even visually, updates brought to the track by the men from Maranello. The change in philosophy, which brought the SF-23 closer (but not replicated) to the aerodynamic concept of Adrian Newey and Red Bull, indirectly helped Carlos Sainz match his teammate’s performance.
The balance of the car proved to be more unstable, especially with “more forward” setups, allowing the Spaniard to match the performance of his teammate, who lost a lot in the sectors with medium and low-speed corners, no longer being able to rely on less understeering settings that enhance its driving style.
After the summer break, thanks to a better understanding, a further performance was unlocked, which allowed Sainz, between Monza and Singapore, to obtain two Pole Positions and a victory, the only weeks where the Spaniard proved to be superior in terms of performance, to his teammate, who could soon sign a renewal with the Maranello team.
Between June and September, the two were separated by very few thousandths in absolute terms, and, in particular, the ease and effectiveness with which Charles managed to manage the tyres in the race decreased, bringing him to a similar (and sometimes lower) level to that of Carlos Sainz.
The SF-23 returns more neutral from Suzuka, and the ‘real’ Leclerc returns
The latest seasonal update introduced at Suzuka, a new fund as happened in the development of the F1-75 (2022), designed to have a more neutral SF-23, increasing the set-up possibilities rather than improving the absolute performance of the single-seater, has allowed us to return to admire the “real” Leclerc both in qualifying and in the race.
The gap in qualifying is back above two-tenths, with gains by the Monegasque in medium and high-speed sections compared to mid-season and the three pole positions and five front rows in the last seven races are evidence of this step forward.
Since then, the Red Team has also made good progress in tire management. On Sunday, we saw a good change, with tire management no longer a huge weak point – although not yet at the level of Red Bull and Verstappen – especially on the medium compound in many Grands Prix.
The gap in the race between the two was three tenths in the last seven events, which recalls the gap seen in that very positive first part of 2022, when Leclerc had confirmed the progress made in the previous two years, thanks to an F1-75 that the Monegasque liked it a lot.
In global terms, the gap between the Ferrari SF23 and the Red Bull RB19 was between five and six-tenths in the twenty-two races of the season, starting from a gap of seven-tenths per lap from Verstappen in the first rounds and finishing on average at just over half (4 tenths).
“Red Bull won by 17 seconds in Abu Dhabi, and they haven’t even developed the car since August. That’s definitely a concern.”
Lewis Hamilton rightly underlined after the race of the last GP of the year. If it is true that Red Bull did not maximize the development of the single-seater due to a lack of necessity and limited resources (economic and otherwise), Ferrari also did not want to push too hard to develop a highly ‘limited’ SF-23. Now, it all depends on how the various teams work in the factory.
“We’ve learned a lot about the car, and now it’s just up to the team. They know what they have to do. Whether we get to Red Bull or not, we will see in Bahrain,” Hamilton said.
The gap to close for the first pursuers is almost half a second, in short, taking the example of the Maranello team, they should recover more in one winter than they have recovered over the course of an entire season.
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang