It was a week to forget for Charles Leclerc.
Now the Ferrari driver is left looking for answers.
Leclerc failed to advance out of Q1 in the Spanish Grand Prix, and the team took the opportunity to make a number of changes to his SF-23 after he reported a number of problems with the car during qualifying.
“I basically had zero rear grip,” reported Leclerc after Saturday’s qualifying session. “The car was extremely oversteery and unpredictable. The car would be okay and suddenly it would snap away. It was something to do with the rear right corner. At first I thought it was something to do with my first set of tyres, so we changed for a new set, but there was still this very strange behaviour from the rear tyres.”
Ferrari took the opportunity to make changes prior to the Grand Prix, including installing a new gearbox. That forced Leclerc to start from pit lane, and while he did manage to pick up a number of spots in the race itself, it was only good for an 11th-place finish.
Now he, and the rest of the team, are struggling to find an explanation.
“I don’t understand what we are doing wrong but we are doing something wrong,” Leclerc told SkySportsF1 following the Spanish Grand Prix.
“I went from a first hard (tyre), to a second hard in the last stint, did the same thing and the car is behaving in a completely different way,” added the Ferrari driver.
Leclerc’s struggles come amidst a season with rather mixed results. While Leclerc finished second in the Drivers’ Championship a season ago, he currently sits seventh in the 2023 standings, 128 points behind leader Max Verstappen, and 16 points behind teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., who sits ahead of him in sixth place.
And it is Sainz who has been the more consistent driver this season. Other than a 12th-place finish in the Australian Grand Prix — due to a penalty handed down after a collision with Fernando Alonso on a late-race restart that dropped him out of the top ten— Sainz has finished in the points in every race this season.
As for Leclerc, he has four points finishes (including a podium in Azerbaijan), a pair of retirements, and the 11th-place last weekend. All of which add to his reputation as a “win or bin” driver.
Right now, the driver is seeking consistency from the SF-23, which could lead to consistency on the track for him.
Following the Spanish Grand Prix, Leclerc outlined how he was dealing with different issues with the SF-23 from qualifying to the race itself. “It did (feel better), but the limitations were the opposite,” he told SkySportsF1. “Yesterday I could not drive, I had a rear that was super loose and strange. We will analyse all of this at the factory. Today was mostly the front.”
“The second and third stints were quite a bit better,” he added. “The first stint was really bad but I think that was more tyre related.”
Looking at telemetry data from the Spanish Grand Prix also highlights the limitations Leclerc had on Sunday. In this graphic from F1 Tempo looking at the fastest laps from Leclerc and Sergio Pérez of Red Bull, you’ll see that absent the end of the main straight and a few turns, Pérez was faster than Leclerc everywhere else on the track. (Leclerc’s data is in red, while Pérez is in blue):
However, comparing Leclerc and the SF-23 to the RB19 of Red Bull is one thing, but perhaps more worrisome for Ferrari is a similar comparison to Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes. When comparing their fastest laps from Sunday, you get this result from F1 Tempo:
Once more Leclerc is in red, and Hamilton in the aqua.
While this is a one-lap snapshot, it illustrates the difference between the Mercedes and their upgraded W14, and the SF-23 Leclerc was struggling with, in the Spanish Grand Prix.
Whether this remains the case going forward remains to be seen, but this could be signs of a bigger problem for Ferrari over the weeks to come.
Following the Spanish Grand Prix, Team Principal Frederic Vasseur highlighted Mercedes’ race pace. “We made a step forward this weekend in terms of our qualifying pace, with Carlos on the front row after the best Saturday of his season so far,” said Vasseur. “However it is clear that, in terms of race pace, Red Bull and Mercedes are quicker than us.”
The team, according to Leclerc, needs to find the answers quickly.
“And we have to obviously understand, work, but we really need to now,” said Leclerc after the Grand Prix on Sunday. “[b]ecause it’s been a few races we have been struggling with the conditions or having a very picky car and today was no better.”2023-06-06T15:02:21Z dg43tfdfdgfd