Charles Leclerc was pleased to secure his first podium of 2023 in Baku, but made no secret of the substantial challenge that lies ahead for Ferrari this season.
The Monegasque driver shocked the field by taking Pole Position for the Baku Grand Prix and the Sprint, demonstrating impressive one-lap pace in his SF-23.
However, any hope that Leclerc could challenge Red Bull over a race distance quickly dissipated – as Ferrari’s limitations in race trim were again exposed.
Perhaps more accurately, Leclerc’s phenomenal qualifying created a false impression of the Italian squad’s competitiveness relative to the dominant RB19.
The 25-year-old managed to keep Fernando Alonso at bay throughout the 51 laps at Baku, showing a higher level of performance and tyre management than many had anticipated.
Aston Martin’s elevated level of tyre conservation was somewhat mitigated by the track temperatures, but this does not detract from the Scuderia’s moral victory on Sunday.
However, speaking in a post-race interview, Charles Leclerc was clear about the deficit Ferrari has to overturn to Red Bull:
“[We] got closer, maybe a little bit, but we are still very far behind in race pace at least [compared to Red Bull], and I also think that we are behind Aston Martin in terms of race pace…
“Yeah, happy is probably not the word. It’s good to finally score points, as I’ve said many times this weekend.
“I don’t think that the six points we had coming into here were really representative of our true performance.
“But of course, we are lacking a lot of performance compared to the Red Bull guys and also to the Astons in the race, but we deserve more points.
“So it’s good to finally have those points. But now we just need to work extremely hard in order to fight with those guys again in the race.”
This assessment seems largely accurate, with the Monegasque making an important distinction between the micro and the macro significance of the Azerbaijan GP.
Focusing specifically on Ferrari’s execution, Baku represents the first race weekend of 2023 when the team optimised their package and secured important points compared to their rivals.
The Italian outfit secured more points than both Aston Martin and Mercedes in Baku, avoiding the reliability issues and early-race incidents that proved costly in previous rounds.
Looking at the situation from a wider perspective, Ferrari will need to begin an aggressive development path if they are to compete for victories.
Podiums, whilst hotly contested, should be attainable on a semi-regular basis for the team at this stage.
However, considering the team’s aim to fight for F1 Championships, the SF-23 must undergo a rapid upward trajectory. This is not to say that Ferrari, even in an ideal scenario, can fight Red Bull for the title in 2023.
The critical point for Ferrari is to address any weaknesses this season so their 2024 package will not be impacted by their current underlying issues – such as poor tyre conservation.
With a series of Grand Prix taking place in the upcoming weeks, the development battle will intensify throughout the field.