Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

“Time will tell” if Ferrari made right choices with strategy team changes – Leclerc

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Charles Leclerc says Ferrari are “trying to do what’s best for the team” after making changes to its strategy division ahead of the new season.

Ferrari’s 2022 campaign suffered from a series of strategic errors, some of which likely cost Leclerc race wins. The team goes into the new season with several major changes among its senior management.

Frederic Vasseur has arrived from Alfa Romeo to take over as team principal from Mattia Binotto, who stood down at the end of last year. Among the first significant personnel changes Vasseur has made was to move former head of strategy Inaki Rueda to a factory-based role and elevate Ravin Jain in his place.

Leclerc said it will become clear whether the team has changed things for the better once they begin racing.

“There’s been a few changes but I wouldn’t want to comment too much on that,” he said in the FIA press conference ahead of this weekend’s season-opening race. “We are trying to do what’s best for the team. Fred came and saw already a few things.

“It’s too early to judge too because these things are affecting the race in itself. So we’ll see. And time will tell whether these were the right choices.”

Leclerc worked with Vasseur at Alfa Romeo in 2018, when he made his debut as an F1 driver. He said the team’s new principal excels at getting the best out of his staff.

“It’s still very early days but I think what Fred is really, really good at is to extract the best out of the people by putting them in the best conditions,” said Leclerc. “This we can already see some benefits, so that’s great.”

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He expects Vasseur to identify other areas of improvement once the season begins. “It was his first three days on track last week, so it’s still very early days and we still need to see.

“I’m pretty sure he will discover much more things and see how the team works on a race weekend starting from tomorrow. So it’s still early days, but at least it feels good and it was impressive to see how well he got at ease with such a big team straight away. That was important, too.”

Ferrari’s pre-season test raised some concerns as the team did not appear to be on the pace of rivals Red Bull. Leclerc admitted the team has made a compromise on its approach with its new car in an attempt to reduce the straight-line speed deficit it had to last year’s champions.

“We did kind of a compromise and we took a direction by choice,” he said. “Straight-line speed was probably a weakness last year, I think we focussed on that a bit more and regained some of it, losing a little bit of speed in the corners.

“But overall I feel like we’ve done a good job and all the weaknesses that we had last year are improved. So on that, I’m confident that it’s a better car. How much we will see in qualifying on Saturday.”

He said it’s “still too early to say” whether claims Red Bull are half a second quicker per lap are accurate. “During testing, depending on at what time of the day you are doing the lap times, it’s very difficult to judge. So we’ll wait and see to see how far off we are.

“But having said that I also believe fully in my team and in the upgrades that we are bringing, we have a view of what we are bringing in the next few months and it looks positive. And by focusing on ourselves, I’m sure we’ll do a great job.”

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2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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    2 comments on ““Time will tell” if Ferrari made right choices with strategy team changes – Leclerc”

    1. It was an obvious decision to remove Rueda from his position. Additionally, Mekies has had some responsibilities stripped from him to focus solely on track operations, suggesting that he too came under scrutiny. However, it seems that Mekies was saved by his nationality, and Vasseur requires him to better understand the organization as a whole. Only time will tell if other changes are needed.

      Unfortunately, there are more concerning issues at hand. During testing, Charles appeared unhappy in a conversation with the French aerodynamicist (now designer) David Sanchez. Rumours suggest that the SF-23 is an understeery car, which does not suit Leclerc’s driving style. Leclerc prefers oversteer, similar to Verstappen, and excels at late braking while maintaining a good corner exit speed using his skills to manipulate a loose backend.

      A statement made by Carlos Sainz Sr in November 2022 has resurfaced, fueling conspiracy theories. Sainz claimed that next year’s car will have modifications compared to the F1-75, which made his son uncomfortable. Ferrari began designing the SF-23 in May 2022, a time when Carlos Sainz was being badly outpaced by Leclerc.

      Sainz Jr secured his place on the team using his social skills and his father’s influence over the engineers, which allowed him to have his contract extended for an additional two seasons in a relatively short amount of time. I don’t have the slightest doubt about Leclerc’s ability to beat Sainz in every single day of the week even in a car that doesn’t suit his driving style.

      Last year, RBR developed the RB18 to suit Verstappen’s driving style, who didn’t like its initial neutrality. While this does not necessarily mean that Verstappen cannot beat Perez in a car he does not like, it was the right approach to give the first driver what he needs to perform at his best. If Ferrari has designed the SF-23 to better suit Sainz’s driving style, it could be a defining moment for Binotto’s legacy, and he will not be remembered favourably for it. Let’s wait and see.

    2. @tifoso1989 Right, these pre-season moves were pretty much guaranteed. As Leclerc notes, they can perhaps expect more once Vasseur sees the team in action in earnest and gets a better understanding of how the team works through a GP weekend.

      But given how much trouble highly skilled engineers have dialing in these cars, it doesn’t seem that likely they’re purposefully changing things to better suit one driver over another. Rather, they correctly identified that a lack of straight line speed was one of the big weaknesses of the car last year. Trying to improve that does come at a cost, which inevitably changes the balance of the car, but we’ll see how that manifests itself once the team gets more experience setting up the car.

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