Why Ferrari saw a ‘real step forward in pure performance’ in point-less Australian GP

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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If Ferrari were disappointment with the outcome of their first two races of the season, the Australian Grand Prix proved matters could get worse.

On the face of it the team endured a dire weekend, beginning on Saturday when they fell further behind Red Bull in terms of one-lap pace and were out-qualified by rivals Mercedes and Aston Martin. The team left Melbourne point-less after a race bookended by frustrations.

Charles Leclerc suffered a race-ending first-lap tangle with Lance Stroll. On the final lap a five-second time penalty – which the team is now seeking to overturn – dropped Carlos Sainz Jnr from fourth at the line to 12th.

However team principal Frederic Vasseur says it has taken some encouragement about the performance of its SF-75 from its otherwise grim weekend. “I think the issue in Melbourne was not the potential of the car, it was more that the job that we did as a team to extract the best from this,” he told media including RaceFans yesterday.

Ferrari’s change in direction for Melbourne

Ferrari’s new set-up direction paid off, says Vasseur
Over the first two races of 2023 Ferrari offered the closest challenge to Red Bull in terms of qualifying pace but tended to fade in the races as the SF-75 couldn’t make its tyres last as well as the competition. They have been aware of this limitation since pre-season testing, and in Bahrain Leclerc even sacrificed his final run in qualifying to give himself the benefit of a fresh set of tyres at the start of the race.

In Australia the team altered the set-up of its cars in a bid to extract more performance over a race distance. Vasseur said the team could see the changes had the desired effect, but other reasons meant the team didn’t deliver the result it was capable of.

“We took the direction a bit different in terms of development for Australia and I think it paid off,” he said.

“The feeling was strange after Melbourne because we were very frustrated that quali, I think we were not far away to do a good job and for different reasons we didn’t deliver.”

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The team was down to one car by the end of lap one on Sunday. Sainz’s strategy was compromised when the race was red-flagged after a Safety Car period in which he had made a pit stop. But having fallen to 11th place by the restart, Sainz was in the top five within 10 laps.

“In the race, the pace was okay,” said Vasseur. “We were a bit unlucky on the Safety Car and red flag and we had to do an extra pit stop. But after this that he was able to come back, to overtake a couple of cars, to push on the tyres and at the end to be close to Lewis [Hamilton] and Alonso.

“I think overall it was a good race and the direction that we took for the development of the car is proving a good one.”

Qualifying slip-ups disguised real pace

Report: Why Leclerc ‘thanked’ Sainz for a tow he didn’t get after Ferrari radio mix-up
Despite the disappointments of race day, Vasseur admitted “I was a bit more frustrated after the quali on Saturday.”

Leclerc was also unhappy with how qualifying went, offering some sarcastic words for his team mate at the end of the session after the team’s plan to use Sainz to give him a tow went awry. But Vasseur said this was only one aspect of the session which didn’t go according to plan.

“On the story of the position of the car it was a very late call, more an opportunist [love] than something like this,” he said. “It was not easy to do. But I assume the responsibility of this, it’s not the drivers.

“We had a long discussion for this and for the rest of the quali because I think that it’s not just this, we didn’t do a good job as a team all together on the preparation and so on. We had the potential to do much better and I think Charles felt it also and the frustrations came to this point, but it was much more than this.”

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Having been closer to Red Bull at the previous round, where Vasseur notes Leclerc said he “did the lap of his life”, Ferrari were disappointed to find themselves fifth and seventh on the grid in Australia.

“We were frustrated after the quali because we didn’t do a good job collectively and we didn’t put everything together,” Vasseur said. “I think after the quali in Jeddah or Bahrain we had the feeling to be able to extract 100 percent of the potential of the car. And it was absolutely not the case in Melbourne for different reasons.

“Carlos made a big mistake in turn one and he lost more than two-tenths compared to the previous lap. Charles was for a different reason, the prep lap was not the right approach. But we really had the feeling after the quali that we could have done much better and to have at least one car in the first four.”

Qualifying in Melbourne was complicated by the cooler track conditions, which left team hedging their bets on whether or not to do preparation lap to increase their tyre temperatures before pushing to set lap times.

“The situation in Melbourne was quite extreme with the prep lap or not the prep lap,” said Vasseur. “We did a different version. But at the end of the day the tyres were not ready for turn one in the last stint and we lost probably the first row in this corner.

Nothing to show for compromised race

The team’s failure to get the best out of its cars in qualifying set the scene for a difficult race, said Vasseur. “I think the analysis of the weekend would have been completely different with the first row with the same car and the same drivers which is where we have to stay calm on the analysis.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2023
Leclerc’s miserable weekend came to an early end
However Sainz’s pace during the race told the team their efforts to make the SF-27 more user-friendly for its drivers over a race distance had paid off. Vasseur is hopeful future races will show this has allowed them to cut the gap to Red Bull.

“It’s true that on the first three events – and first we need to understand that three events is not the complete panel of the tracks and so on – but we always had the feeling that we are not far away and able to fight for the first row with them in quali and it was more difficult in the race,” he said.

“Perhaps [their] advantage, at least on the numbers that we are able to analyse, the advantage in the race in Melbourne was much lower. I think this is coming also from the capacity of the driver to drive the car at the limit with different levels of fuel, different tyres and so on.

“If you have the car a bit too picky, perhaps you can manage the situation in quali for one lap with new tyres, you know the balance after five sets of soft tyres in quali. But all over the race, it’s probably a bit more difficult and we took a little bit this direction over the last couple of races.”

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“A real step forward in terms of pure performance”

Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2023
Sainz’s pace showed gains Ferrari have made, says Vasseur
Leclerc’s race was over almost before it began. However Sainz, despite his fury at the penalty which cost him a points finish, was at least able to complete a race distance and Vasseur believes his driver was encouraged by the car’s pace.

“With Carlos for sure the morale, as you can imagine, was completely down and I had to help him a little bit on Sunday evening,” said Vasseur. “But the reaction was very positive.

“You heard on the radio that he was completely devastated with the situation. But one hour after the race we had a very good discussion, positive [about] the weekend, considering that even if we didn’t score points for different reasons, we did a real step forward in terms of pure performance and we have still 20 races to go.

“I think we have to look about the future. But he was okay, he had a good reaction. And he was with us this week for the simulator and he was in a good fighting spirit.”

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2023 F1 season

Browse all 2023 F1 season articles . We know that what is true in one track is not always true in that we have to confirm it.But I think we are in the right direction.

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...

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3 comments on “Why Ferrari saw a ‘real step forward in pure performance’ in point-less Australian GP”

  1. If Ferrari were disappointment with the outcome of their first two races of the season

    I think you meant “disappointed”

  2. skip breitmeyer
    8th April 2023, 3:50

    Great article- this is, after all, Ferrari’s new Chief and it’s going to be interesting getting to know him. Sad, but it was certainly time for a change after the SERIES of unforced errors during the last two seasons. We all want to see somebody bringing a challenge to Red Bull, and to my mind both Ferrari drivers have shown they measure up. Wish there was some way to know how they respond, technically, to challenges like tire wear but undoubtedly there’s a limit to how much they want to tell.

  3. Ferrari has won just seven races in the five seasons since the Binotto eh… ‘promotion’ at the end of the 2018 season. Three of those, nearly half, were in the 2019 season where Ferrari’s car were dubious at best, and probably running illegal power unites.

    It’s going to take a while to put the team back on the right track. Luckily for them, most other teams are doing even worse.

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