Vasseur: Leclerc made the difference in Baku, Sainz struggled but still beat the Mercedes

The Baku race confirmed that the Ferrari SF-23 has progressed thanks to the work carried out at the factory after a disappointing start to the season in Bahrain and Jeddah. Ferrari had already shown some progress in Melbourne, although it needed to be followed up in Baku.

The almost one-month break allowed the team to refine their setup work and continue with their development plan. Speaking of which, Team Principal Frederic Vasseur has explained that upgrades will start being introduced from Miami – which he revealed in a press conference held before Azerbaijan.

Fred Vasseur has remained optimistic about Ferrari’s uphill battle, although he recognises the challenge facing the Italian squad.

“We certainly aren’t where we want to be, but what I like about the team is the never-yielding attitude. We didn’t panic after the first races, and Jeddah was tough, not thinking about changing everything and a possible B car.

“No, the goal has always been to improve and understand the potential of this car,” explained Vasseur, praising the response from the factory after a difficult start to the season.

Baku certifies the progress of the work done before Melborune, but still not enough to win.

The Ferrari Team Principal has been honest in analysing the situation with his team. The work that the technicians are doing on the car is paying off.

He still doesn’t want to get too specific about this “new technical philosophy” being undertaken on the setup and development of the SF-23, laughing at such questions from reporters.

“Do you think I’ll tell you the answer? Next question,” was his response. Ferrari now has a better understanding of the car, the new bottom introduced in Jeddah and fitted by Australia and a different basic setup of the car, but something is still missing to fight at the top.

One of Vasseur’s focuses is on consistency, which the SF-23 still lacks, although there has been progress in that area as well. Regarding this, the Frenchman doesn’t even think it’s a problem of a mechanical nature, underlining moments in which the Red team expresses itself well:

The car is fast in the single lap, and today in the final part of the race, it was just as fast. We have always been convinced from the single stop, like Aston Martin, while Red Bull, I think, wanted to go for the two stop.

“So they pushed from the start, while we managed at the start to have a lead on the tire at the end.

“In the end, they were simply faster. While we lack some consistency over the lap and throughout the race, the car has also improved since the beginning.” However, the former Alfa Romeo does not want to live on ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ when asked if they could have pushed a little more “We’ll never know what the pace would have been in the end.”

What to do and how to improve in view of the next races and 2024?

“Its still early to think about next year. From Miami, we will start introducing updates and see how the car performs. Bringing in new pieces is one thing; extracting potential is another. These new formats, together with the Sprint Races, are prompting the teams to bring as many small updates as a large package of developments,” commented Vasseur before the Miami Grand Prix, where the first news on Ferrari will arrive SF-23. 

Regarding those who, hopefully, in ambitions, be the direct rivals, or Red Bull, the theme of the DRS always holds the bench. The mobile wing today allowed the two RB19s to easily overtake Leclerc:

“They have an advantage over everyone else. We have reduced the gap since last year, but there is still ample room for improvement, and we need to understand what they have found.”

Vasseur: “Leclerc was fantastic in Baku, Carlos did a good job”.

The new format of the Sprint Race certainly penalized Carlos Sainz, who has never found himself completely at ease here in Baku. The Frenchman said that in this way, a driver who starts the weekend on the wrong foot has more difficulty recovering, not being able to work much on the car. Speaking of the format and an objectively boring race, Vasseur brings everything back more to the layout of the track.

“In Baku, we saw good races, but also races where if a car with a good top speed is driving a train of cars, you can do 200 laps that you don’t exceed. The format is exciting for the public because something is always at stake. The race wasn’t boring for that reason.”

These comments were an effort to promote a format which, at least for now, does not seem to have convinced everyone, including riders, fans and insiders.

With regard to his riders, however, the Team Principal has to make an analysis between two performances that are certainly different, if not opposite, but with overall similar moods. No one leaves Baku enthusiastic about Ferraris, but at least they can ‘enjoy’ what they have collected. The big difference between Sainz and Leclerc has also raised doubts about the value of the SF-23, but Vasseur has clear ideas:

“We cannot divide the two things (Leclerc and Ferrari). He did an incredible job in qualifying, but we knew which in Baku would have been a factor.

“Carlos has struggled all weekend, and I think the lack of confidence comes from the mistake in Q1 on the first lap. He had to use a second set of Softs to qualify, and he carried that lack of feeling with him from there on.”

The Spaniard paid for the problems in Q1 on Friday also as he was unable to make a second attempt in Q3, having run out of Soft tires available.

Despite the difficulties, however, Fred emphasizes the achievement of Carlos, who testify to the progress of which he speaks:

It was a tough weekend for him, but in the end, he was ahead of Mercedes. This must be emphasized. He brought home some good points and finished with a P5.

“There are ups and downs in sport. In Melbourne, he did better than Charles, and here he suffered more, but I think he did a good job in the end.”

Author: Paolo D’Alessandro
Co-Author: Giuliano Duchessa

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang