Why Ferrari are “not thinking Red Bull are uncatchable” ahead of the Bahrain GP

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Ferrari believe improvements in their car’s tyre degradation and straight-line speed will help them challenge Red Bull for victory in today’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr will start today’s season-opening race from the second row of the grid. World champion Max Verstappen and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez locked out the front row.

Ferrari appeared to be at a disadvantage to their rivals after pre-season testing. However Leclerc ran Verstappen closer than expected in qualifying and his coach Jock Clear said the team is satisfied with how their car has behaved over the opening weekend of the season so far.

“Before those five days of running we were comfortable with the development we made. We know there are some areas we need still to work on. Then we came here and I think the most encouraging thing is that the car is doing exactly what we wanted it to do. There’s no areas where we’re saying, ‘oh, this isn’t working, we need to go back to the wind tunnel and have a look’.

“Clearly Red Bull have done a very good job, Aston Martin has done a good job and Mercedes are always there. Maybe we didn’t expect Aston Martin to be where they are, but certainly Mercedes, Red Bull, we expected to be alongside us. And I think we’re comfortable with where we’re at. Though obviously you’d like to get to Bahrain and find you’ve got a half a second advantage.”

Ferrari’s decision not to send Leclerc out for a final run in Q3, in order to save a fresh set of soft tyres, raised speculation the team was concerned over how quickly its rubber would degrade in the race. However Clear said the team has addressed this weakness it experienced during 2022.

“We worked a lot last year on our tyre management and certainly at the end of the year I think we made some very good progress. We worked again on that over the winter and in the three days of testing last week. So hopefully, as I said before, we can we can manifest that today with actually challenging Red Bull over the race distance.

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“We’ve seen yesterday that they’ve probably got a little bit of a margin on us on a qualifying lap. But I really believe this afternoon when Charles gets a sniff of those Red Bulls, I think, he and Carlos can take the fight to them.”

(L to R): Charles Leclerc, Ferrari; Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Red Bull; Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Leclerc will line up behind the two Red Bull drivers
Yesterday Sainz admitted he was concerned Red Bull would be even further ahead of them in the race. “Red Bull is going to be very, very strong tomorrow,” he said. “If in quali there are one step, on race pace it looks like they are one-and-a-half steps in front.”

However Clear said Ferrari are “not going into today thinking Red Bull are uncatchable which I think a week ago some of the media was suggesting maybe that it’s all over.”

“I think as you’ve seen, we don’t believe it is at the moment and we’d like to show that this afternoon,” he added.

Ferrari’s performance in testing was widely taken as being a sign of degradation problems. However Clear said this was a consequence of the team working to establish how hard it could push its tyres before the degradation became too severe.

“We didn’t experience problems,” he said. “What you have to recognise is teams have to recognise what you can do to tyre-save. We often hear about tyre-saving nowadays as being a skill the drivers have.

“You need a reference. You need to go out on a set of tyres and go as fast as you think you can go from the onset and then you’ll realise ‘wow, the degradation looks really high’. All the teams at some stage will go out and do that and we did that and then we say, okay, if we’re just pushing flat-out, the drivers are driving as fast as they think they can, you see some pretty horrific degradation.

“But that’s Bahrain for you. All that’s doing is setting ourselves a baseline. From there we then say, okay, how much lap time do we have to give up in those early laps to make the stint actually a lot quicker overall? So you rob Peter to pay Paul and that’s the process you do over the three days of testing and of course on Friday.”

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Clear said Ferrari are “quite comfortable” with what they’ve learned about their car’s performance over a race stint. “Last year when we recognised the tyre degradation was going to be the key factor such as in Abu Dhabi at the end of the year, we were actually able to address it and I think today Charles and Carlos know exactly what they’ve got to do.

“Now if that pace, the best tyre-saving we can do to give us the best stints, turns out not to be quite as quick as Red Bull’s, then that’s what we’re going to find out today. But I think we’re comfortable that we can make these tyres work all the way through each stint and we can make the strategy we’re going to employ work for us.”

Another key weakness Ferrari had to Red Bull last year was their car’s performance in a straight line. Clear said Leclerc and Sainz will go into the race knowing they are less vulnerable on the straights than last season.

“It’s obviously very intimidating for the driver just to know that the guy behind him has got a 6kph advantage on him. It’s never as simple as that because maybe they’re a bit slower around the corners, a bit quicker down the straights, but the fact is when the driver’s got a car behind him in the rear-view mirrors and he knows the guy’s got a straight-line advantage it’s really tough for him.

“So I think if nothing else, we’ve given the drivers that psychological boost this year that either way round, if they’ve got Red Bulls behind them, they’re not actually going to have to be fearing for every breaking point. And similarly, if they get behind a Red Bull, and they get the DRS and they get the tow, they can really attack. So psychologically that’s a good bonus.”

Ferrari has made reliability improvements to their power unit which suffered a series of failures which cost the team potential wins last year. The team had to reduce the performance of its engines as a result.

While Ferrari has now corrected those problems, which should allow it to extract more performance, Clear said this is not the only area where the team has made gains.

“Technically, obviously, we recognised last year that our car package, and it wasn’t just in the power unit, but our car package needed to deliver a bit more straight-line speed. And that’s what we’ve achieved.

“Again it’s only the first race and we’ll see different races demanding different efficiencies, different rear wings and we’ll see how we pan out over the course of the next three or four races. But again, I think we’re comfortable with the fact that we’ve closed that gap.”

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2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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    Author information

    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
    Claire Cottingham
    Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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    9 comments on “Why Ferrari are “not thinking Red Bull are uncatchable” ahead of the Bahrain GP”

    1. BLS (@brightlampshade)
      5th March 2023, 12:27

      Maybe just maybe they can challenge Perez, but I can’t see them getting within a country mile of Verstappen. Just hoping Red Bulls advantage is at least partially track specific.

      1. We now know that they cannot even do that.

    2. petebaldwin (@)
      5th March 2023, 12:47

      Last year, Red Bull were much better in the race than they were over a single lap. The new car clearly looks like an evolution of the RB18 so it’ll be interesting if that characteristic is there again. If it is, the fact that they’ve locked out the front row of the grid is a bit of a worry for Ferrari….

    3. Leclerc already changing his battery. Ferrari tried mediums in Q1!!

      Looks like the reliability and strategy problems are still there. Thank God I don’t have to see it live as F1 has stopped its TV coverage in India.

    4. While it is good to look ahead, they mustn’t forget to look behind. I saw a lap comparison. It showed AM miss straight line speed but gain a lot in slow corners on Ferrari. So if Alonso can stay in DRS distance he could be a thorn in their side

      1. …a very big thorn

    5. Why Ferrari are

      fools. Uncompetitive, delusional fools.

    6. Well, this got old fast.

      1. Did not age well

    Comments are closed.