Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Ferrari see “good news” in race pace despite Red Bull’s “game killer” strategy

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Ferrari’s new team principal Frederic Vasseur saw reasons to be encouraged by their performance in the Bahrain Grand Prix compared to Red Bull, despite their rival’s emphatic win.

Red Bull scored a one-two in the season-opener, and race winner Max Verstappen finished 48 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz Jnr who was the only Ferrari driver to finish.

Charles Leclerc retired on the 40th lap of 57 with a power unit problem. He was 24s behind Verstappen at the time.

Vasseur said he was encouraged by Leclerc’s pace in qualifying, where he lapped a tenth of a second off Verstappen in Q3 before deciding not to perform a final run, and by his showing in the opening stint of the race.

Race start, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Poll: Vote for your 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix driver of the weekend
“After the test I think every single team was a bit blind on the situation,” said Vasseur. “Everybody played a lot with the the level of fuel in the engine mode.

“But I think everybody including [the media] were expecting that Red Bull be a bit more far away in quali and we were there. To be able to match them the first 15 laps – I don’t know when we pitted, lap 14 or 15 – for me was good news.”

Leclerc was able to move up to second place at the start and hold it during his first stint on new soft tyres. But Red Bull were at a significant advantage due to their ability to run two stints on softs while Ferrari had to use the hard tyres for an extra stint.

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Vasseur called that a “game killer” advantage for Red Bull. “We have to improve on this,” he admitted.

“But I would say that the first issue for me is the reliability because we need to have a zero issue on the operation.”

Fernando Alonso’s pass on Sainz after Leclerc’s retirement meant Aston Martin ended the first race as the closest rivals to Red Bull. However Vasseur believes his team is likely to emerge as the true competition for the reigning champions.

“If you have a look on the first part of the race, I think we were closer to Red Bull than to Aston Martin. Again, it’s race one, and we don’t have to draw any conclusions.

“I think that Mercedes will wake up soon and we don’t know what could happen next week. Next week will be a different story in Jeddah, it means different Tarmac. Let’s see after Jeddah if we will have a better picture.”

However he stressed Ferrari’s priority must be making sure there is no repeat of Leclerc’s retirement.

“It’s never good to start with a DNF,” he said. “I would have preferred to finish like Red Bull, for sure. But now that I want to stay consistent in my position.

“I told the team before T01 Bahrain two weeks ago that the championship won’t be over in Bahrain, it doesn’t matter the results. In any case, it was true for the winter test, it was true for today that the team experienced the opposite situation in the past and the most important now is to be able to have a clear picture of the situation where we are failing and to do a proper analysis on this and to come back stronger as soon as possible.”

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Ferrari’s gap to Red Bull in the Bahrain Grand Prix

The gaps between each driver on every lap compared to the leader’s average lap time. Very large gaps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

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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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    16 comments on “Ferrari see “good news” in race pace despite Red Bull’s “game killer” strategy”

    1. They were around 8 secs behind at lap 12, how is this “matching” them?

      1. True. They were 8.7 seconds behind after the first 10 laps. That’s 8 tenths a lap down on race pace. They’re also way off the mark in tyre management.

        I don’t understand what positives can be taken from this weekend for Ferrari.

    2. Fred needs new glasses.

      1. And to stop drinking what he drinks, its not good.
        Ferrari in the 1st 12 Laps of this year race was 0.120s slower per lap than the 2022 race.

    3. But Max’s lead increased by about a second per lap from lap one onwards & the same with Checo once he retook P2 after the first pit stop phase.

    4. The flat line between Pérez and Verstappen after their first stops – while both Ferrari’s fall way back – tells a concerning story. Even if Pérez was driving to the best of his abilities, Verstappen most definitely was not. The gap in potential race pace between Ferrari and Red Bull is for all intents and purposes huge.

      1. Absolutely. Verstappen faced an issue with engine braking during the race and reports suggest that RBR tuned their PUs down in the later stages of the race. It seems that Verstappen still doesn’t have the car to his liking otherwise the gap with Perez would have been ridiculous. The situation for Ferrari is dramatic to say the least. I don’t know if the alarm bells started ringing in Maranello or no ? I mean with regard to next year…

        1. You cant change modes anymore to save engine or help overtaking or keep Bottas behind or just turn it down so avarage fan wont notice how far ahead you actually are.

        2. @urubu is correct engine mode during the race are locke but what they can do is the setting of energie recovery tuning down. (that is the part with engine braking) But they can save the engine by coasting (later breaking, hitting the accelerator just a tad later, ect.)

    5. That’s the difference between Ferrari and Mercedes.

      Mercedes wants to win. Ferrari just doesn’t want to be embarrased on the track, because if anything, their season is as lost as Mercedes’s, and yet here they are trying to keep it cool as if they had any control of the gap to Red Bull.

    6. Fred is being politically correct with this statement. I think Leclerc’s assessment after his retirement that RBR has found something extra and is in a different category is worth considering. While some have suggested that Ferrari made a qualifying car after Leclerc trailed Verstappen by a tenth in his first Q3 attempt, I believe the opposite is true: RBR has optimized their car for race conditions (or every race condition to be precise), with no signs of tyre wear or porpoising.

      Last year’s F1-75 was considered the strongest car in terms of peak downforce, but it struggled with porpoising and tyre wear even before TD039 was introduced. The SF-23 appears to have inherited these traits and struggles once fuel is put into the car. In contrast, the RB19 seems to have a “passive” active suspension, making it consistently well-balanced and easy to drive in all conditions and on every type of tyre, regardless of fuel load.

      If I were in Vasseur’s position, I would prioritize investigating what RBR is doing instead of continuing to develop this year’s car. It’s irrelevant to try and catch up to RBR this year when they have such a dominant machine. Once the engineers figure out what RBR is doing, I’ll be relentlessly lobbying the FIA to get it banned.

      The RB19’s advantage in Bahrain reminded me of the Mercedes dominance from 2014-2016, and with the budget cap in place, RBR will likely continue to dominate until the next rule change in 2026.

    7. I just hope that Vasseur do not turn into Binotto and starts insulting our intelligence.
      The results anyway we look are a disaster for championship.
      The only thing that worked at top level was pitcrew with double stack and the other pitstops. All were well done.
      Strategy team did not compromised but the competitive limitations in case of Sainz meant they could not save the podium.

    8. I guess at least being second fastest is good news as it means your team has the smallest marging to catch up compared to others.

      Yes – it’s still early days as you’d expect team principals to stay positive if only to motivate those at the factories that are working their butts off.

    9. I am sure this is just track related and expect Ferrari does much beter in the next race.

    10. If that was an encouraging start, Vasseur must have bales of straw to clutch at.
      Maybe a less abrasive track will help Ferrari. But 24 seconds off the pace and a DNF isn’t a good sign ever.
      Mercedes are lost until they fit a new sidepod design and up their downforce. And even then, who knows how much difference it will make. Clearly not Mercedes themselves because they still haven’t got round to trying it yet.

    11. The head of aerodynamic in Ferrari just resigned ….so it is total darkness for Ferrari

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