F1 is bustling in the Qatar paddock where the next round of the world championship will be held, which Max Verstappen could win as early as Saturday during the Sprint Race. In addition to this, there are also other points of interest, such as the possibility of McLaren again emerging as the second-fastest.
We also await signs of recovery from Aston Martin whilst the fight for second between Ferrari and Mercedes continues. Currently, the Brackley team has a 20-point advantage over the Maranello team – at a circuit not especially suited to either car.
The SF-23 will have to demonstrate that it has improved in prolonged corners at medium-high speed and in tire degradation, especially when the front is stressed, while the W14 will have to take to the track with a good basic setup and a stable rear in support, with attention also to excessive drag.
Today, in the usual press conferences, the two Ferrari drivers expressed concerns but also hopes for this weekend. Talking about the pros and cons of this weekend, the performance generated by the SF-23’s new floor from Suzuka will be significant.
Leclerc: “Many unknowns, but Sprints can help us. The oversteering SF-23 is unpredictable. Vasseur has improved the way of working”
The complete resurfacing of the circuit and the modification of the curbs make the Losail circuit even more unpredictable:
“[There will be] many things we have to learn in a single session. It can therefore go very badly or very well. We prepared as best we could in the simulator, and I hope it will go well.” said Charles Leclerc, answering one of the many questions.
On the expectations, however, he didn’t want to go too far because “every time I say something (whether the car will go well or not), the opposite happens during the weekend (laughs).”
What gives hope to Ferrari is the weekend format, “usually in the Sprints Races, we’re doing well, so let’s hope it can be like this again.”
The SF-23 has improved during the season, especially after Zandvoort. In Maranello, several things about car set-up are now understood, especially with a high-load configuration.
However, in Qatar, certain weaknesses could return: “The problems are still there. It will be necessary to a new car to eliminate them and is the target of next year’s car.”
One of the most important issues concerns the basic setting of the SF-23, which tends towards understeer, which is not appreciated by the Monegasque, who once again explained and clarified this factor:
“It’s not that we can’t set a setup with oversteer; all cars can be set that way, but the car becomes inconsistent/unpredictable and, therefore, we have to drive with some understeer, which doesn’t help me with my driving style. I adapted a bit in Japan, and it went well, but there won’t be any particular improvements between now and the end of the season.”
More than anyone else, McLaren has seen growth in this period, and Leclerc expects to see Norris and Piastri still ahead. However, the Monegasque looks, above all, at home from a future perspective rather than just today’s present.
“From Zandvoort onwards, we learned a lot. Red Bull remains far ahead. McLaren has improved a lot, and I expect it to be strong because their car is good at medium and high speeds after the updates.
“I think we are happier with what we have learned, and this can help us take a significant step forward for the future“
The Monegasque confirms a less unstable SF-23, with less variation in performance. He also explains that heat should be less of an issue:
“What made Singapore difficult is that there are so many buildings around, and therefore, even if you open the visor, there isn’t enough air. Here, I expect it to be a little better, but it will be tough”
Among the questions, there was also one about the Team Principal, Frederic Vasseur, who arrived at Ferrari this year, and what he brought to this first year at the Scuderia and the Monegasque expressed a very clear opinion on his ‘new boss’.
“Fred is super flat emotionally, and that’s super positive in his position. As an Italian team, Ferrari is what I love, the passion.
“But having this balance with Fred is very positive, with a clear vision when things go wrong and when they go well, and we are continuing to work hard we have always worked like this, but Fred has improved this way of doing things, and it is positive”
Sainz: “Set-up tests were carried out at Suzuka. It’s too early to say if the new floor has helped tire degradation”
The Monegasque’s teammate, Carlos Sainz, remains on a very similar line to his, also focusing on Ferrari’s ability to arrive on track with a good basic setup and therefore gain from the Sprint Race format, with the hours of free practice reduced to a single one-hour session.
“We are a team that usually does well on Sprint weekends, and we hope this can compensate a little with the characteristics of the circuit.”
The Spaniard also underlines the unknowns of the new asphalt, curbs, track limits and the heat, which will be a factor, also if less impactful than Singapore, at least for the pilots.
The media attention then focused on a more ‘negative’ Suzuka weekend than that of Singapore, with Charles Leclerc, who was ahead of him and performed better following the update of the floor.
The Spaniard, however, denied that this could have had an influence on his performance, explaining instead that it was more a matter of his method of setting up the weekend, which cost him something:
“Charles had a good weekend in Suzuka. I, on the other hand, got lost in experimenting with some things. This season, I chose a few Fridays to try different setup approaches, especially mechanical ones, to try to make the car more drivable, but obviously I chose the wrong weekend, and I didn’t find the right feeling for Qualifying.
“But in the race, I was strong again, and so I know what to do. It is an approach that may not pay off in the medium term but in the medium to long term. I chose Japan precisely because it had fast sections that we find here and in Austin, and so I was able to test things from there, and that’s what we can do without testing”
The new Ferrari floor seems to have given something more to the SF-23, which also showed good tire management at Suzuka, confirming the trend of Monza and Singapore, but the Spaniard does not want to hazard any judgments.
“It’s too early to say whether the Tire management has improved or not with the new fund. I want to take some more time to say whether it is true or not.”
In Qatar, this will certainly be a factor, but Sainz also indicated that strategy will help as “it will be a race with two stops, and this makes race management easier than one with only one stop. Having said that, we are working a lot on it with the riders and with the setup”
Finally, if Charles Leclerc said that the SF-23 has less Up&Down, the strongest rival remains Red Bull, and precisely because of the question of adaptation to the track – which the Monegasque himself defined as a factor in seeing Ferrari more or less competitive.
The Spaniard is not surprised by the gap from Red Bull and sets his goal for this weekend:
“In Singapore, we won, and in Suzuka, we came within 40 seconds of the winner. That’s how it goes, but the fast and long corners are our weakness. But if the car can be P7, I want to be P7. If it can be P3 I will want to be P3.”
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang