Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Paul Ricard, 2021

Ferrari doubt they can fix tyre problem behind disastrous French GP this year

2021 French Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by and

Ferrari arrived at Paul Ricard having taken back-to-back pole positions and a combined 36 points at the previous two rounds.

They left after failing to score a single point in the French Grand Prix following one of the more severe descents down the order seen in a single race in some time – from fifth and seventh on the grid to 11th and 16th at the finish.

While Ferrari’s lack of race pace was of little surprise to the team, the scale of their plight clearly caught them off-guard.

Even after a solid qualifying session for Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari’s sporting director Laurent Mekies remained conservative as he spoke on Saturday evening about the team’s chances for the following day as the sport returned to more traditional circuits following the previous two street tracks.

“We are expecting to suffer on this set of tracks,” Mekies admitted. “We would certainly say that these tracks present a great challenge for us because it’s a way to further check how we correlate, how we prepare and how we understand our car.

“Talking about weaknesses, the next big topic for us is to find the same sort of consistent pace at the top of the midfield, also in the race – which has been a bit more of a rollercoaster.”

Sainz and Leclerc had a tough afternoon in France
Throughout the young 2021 season so far, Ferrari had recognised a pattern of their long-run race pace often failing to live up to their promise over a single lap. And the French round would prove to be the most extreme example of the season so far.

“It’s been a tendency and, I’m not going to lie, it’s been in the back of our minds a bit going into every race,” explained Sainz. “We tend to struggle a bit more in the races than in qualifying.”

Before the race had even begun, Sainz received an early warning about how his afternoon was destined to unfold during his reconnaissance lap when he locked up approaching the Beausset corner and skidded onto the red adhesive run-off strips.

“On the laps to the grid, the track was very, very tricky,” Sainz explained. “I actually had a moment – I nearly lost the car in turn 11. So this already told me that the track was in very, very different condition.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Earlier rain had washed the Le Castellet track of the rubber built up over two days of running on its newly laid surface. Despite Mekies’ projection that slightly cooler track temperatures may in fact benefit the SF21, it would prove not to be the case.

“It seems that today the track was slower, less grip,” team principal Mattia Binotto explained. “Maybe the rain of the morning, a greener track. So having less grip somehow we’re sliding more and when you start sliding more you create the graining.”

But while the track conditions were the same for all 20 cars in the race with tyre degradation more severe than everyone had expected, Ferrari clearly struggled more acutely than the rest.

Leclerc resorted to a second pit stop en route to 16th
“We have a very narrow window where we managed to make the tyres work,” Leclerc explained.

“Somehow it’s very difficult for us to always be in that particular window to make them work. And today, we clearly didn’t manage to put them in that window and we just really struggled, especially with degradation from lap five, six of every stint we struggled more than others.”

Leclerc was the first of the field to switch onto the hard tyres at the end of lap 15. This initially looked like an inspired call with the undercut effect proving so powerful that he was able to jump team mate Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren.

But between lap 18 and 53, Leclerc’s gap to Ricciardo sunk from a 1.878s advantage to a deficit of 44 seconds – and 10 places – by the time the chequered flag fell, after Ferrari resorted to bringing Leclerc in for a second set of mediums with 14 laps remaining.

“I personally knew and definitely the team knew that [the first stop] was quite early for a one-stop strategy,” said Leclerc.

Sainz fell out of the points in the final laps
“But we could still make it work if we managed those hard tyres very well. But we were quite surprised that after like six, seven laps, we started to struggle on that. And that’s where it became clearer and clearer that I will go for a two-stop.”

For Sainz, the biggest culprit for their slide down the field was their battle with graining front tyres.

“On Friday, we had numbers from our tyres from our long runs that had nothing to do with the numbers that we saw today,” Sainz explained.

“So for me, what caught us by surprise was the track condition changes that have been at the track since Friday until now and I actually heard a lot of other teams on the radio struggling on the first day with completely different balance, much lower grip. The biggest difference is that they didn’t struggle with graining and we did.”

Tyres had been a key topic of debate throughout the weekend following dual failures in Baku, with a new technical directive issued and mandatory minimum pressures raised. But Binotto believes this did not play a role in their troubles this weekend.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Paul Ricard, 2021
Ferrari’s tyre troubles are likely to recur in remaining races
“No, I don’t think it had any impact,” claimed Binotto. “If I look at the prescriptions, it has been raised only on the rear, and I think that today we are having an issue at the front.”

With two races following in quick succession in Austria over the coming weekends, and plenty more front-limited circuits ahead, Ferrari urgently need to get on top of the problem. But Binotto admits it may be impossible for them to fully fix it this year.

“I think we may improve the situation but to solve it I think we will need some hardware change like, for example, the rims, which is not possible per regulation.

“It’s more important for us at that stage to really try to understand and to address it definitely for next year. In the meanwhile I think this issue may happen again on some races, but not all the tracks, it is somehow quite track and weather conditions-related.

“But we need to prepare ourselves to face such a situation in the future, and at least try to mitigate the problem since [it] will happen again this year.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2021 French Grand Prix

Browse all 2021 French Grand Prix articles

Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

11 comments on “Ferrari doubt they can fix tyre problem behind disastrous French GP this year”

  1. It seems Ferrari have prepared a 2013 Mercedes type car. I recollect several races where Lewis and Nico finished significantly adrift of their qualifying positions then.

    Let’s hope they build a 2014 Mercedes type car for the new regulations next year. :)

    1. only if they could have a secret tyre test…..

  2. I guess it has to do with the same characteristics that made the Ferrari so good at getting the softs to work for them right away in Monaco and Baku – that this is more or less the other side of that coin, a bit like how Mercedes having been good at preserving tyres in the last few years not makes it harder for them to get them up to temperature fast enough (and keep them there).

  3. I doubt there is something fundamentally wrong with the car, because they had good race pace on similar tracks (Imola and Barcelona) and even their pace on Friday’s long runs at Paul Ricard looked solid/quicker than the rest of the midfield. But there is no doubt that varying conditions (track temperature, grip, wind etc.) can have a massive impact on Ferrari’s performance.
    To me it seems that they got the balance wrong on Saturday, because Leclerc was already complaining about understeer in qualifying. Usually understeer causes you to chew up the front tires and that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. The changing grip conditions made it even worse for them.
    But they might have made it into the points, if it wasn’t for the front tire graining. That really killed their race, because they had no pace at all, even at the beginning of the stint. The graining caused the car to slide even more and on top of that, increased the wear.

    The fact that it happened before (although not nearly as bad as this time), is even more worrying for the team. They suffered graining in Portimao, Monaco and Baku. And at all three race weekends the conditions changed from Saturday to Sunday: it got cooler
    But why does it keep happening to Ferrari? According to AMuS, the Ferrari has a very narrow operating window on the front tires and whenever they miss that window, they get graining on the fronts. Usually the driver can drive through the graining and after a some laps it gets better, but that isn’t the case with the Ferrari – it gets even worse!

    As Binotto points out, there is no quick fix for this issue. They can only minimize it by getting the balance of the car right as much as possible. And if it happens again (and it probably will), I don’t see really much they can do to limit the damage.

  4. Sounds like they can have far better race pace for longer if they sacrifice some qualifying pace.

    They might be better off and get stronger results by qualifying round 9th – 12th rather than pushing for a higher grid slot at the expense of good race balance.

  5. Maybe could be related to new mandatory tyre pressure?

    1. Sorry: new guidelines on tyre pressure.

      1. @schivo69
        Unlikely, because they experienced graining before (Portimao, Monaco, Baku). It also just appears on the front tires and not the rears. I guess the problem lies in the small operating window of the front tires. If they get it right, they are fast. But if they don’t, they struggle.

    2. That, and the new rear wing they had to develop. Both seem to hurt them hard.
      Single lap pace is good but the car eats its tires like its fuel in 2019.

  6. Ben (@sunnchilde)
    22nd June 2021, 16:37

    Poor Carlos! He thought he was trading up when in fact he was trading down. Who would have ever thought that Ferrari would become a mid-field team?

  7. Noob team. Noob team. Noob team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.
If the person you're replying to is a registered user you can notify them of your reply using '@username'.