A sign the upgrades worked? Ferrari see an upside to Leclerc’s Miami crashes

2023 Miami Grand Prix

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Charles Leclerc lies a distant seventh in the standings, and his Miami Grand Prix qualifying crash was his third in the space of eight days.

But Ferrari are taking encouragement from the fact he now feels able to push their car to – and beyond – its limits.

Both Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr have spoken about their struggles with the Ferrari SF-23. The car can perform: Leclerc put it on pole in Baku for the sprint race and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix before finishing second and third in the weekend’s two races.

But one consistent piece of feedback, and an element of car handling that has been a struggle for other teams too, is the ‘peakiness’ of the car’s behaviour even when it has the pace to be the fastest in the field over a single lap.

Ferrari Miami Grand Prix car updates, 2023
Ferrari brought a revised floor to the Miami Grand Prix
Leclerc’s performance engineer Jock Clear explained to media at the Miami Grand Prix why such handling characteristics is an issue with the current era of ground effect cars, how the development direction that teams took for 2023 has influenced the extent of that issue in their designs for this season, and why Leclerc’s crashes may be consequential of the team making progress in reducing the peakiness of the SF-23.

Like their rivals, Ferrari have had to get to grips with changes to the parts of the floor height during the off-season. “Of course, the height of the floor relative to the ground is a huge influence on the whole package of downforce,” explained Clear. “You generate so much downforce on the floor and the rear wing, but they’re interconnected, so that’s the area of most people’s development.”

Ferrari brought their latest floor update to last weekend’s race. “We’ve seen a couple of evolutions of the floor for this car this year, pretty much focused in the same area: The section just ahead of the rear wheel where you’re controlling the flow that goes either outside the wheel or inside the wheel, and therefore under the into the diffuser area.

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“The changes are quite subtle. If you’re looking for the changes, they’re going to be quite difficult to spot. But actually in aerodynamic terms they’re quite powerful. So it’s just a response to the feedback we’ve had from the drivers through the first four races of the year in where the car is deficient.”

Despite being the only team to beat Red Bull in single-lap pace so far this year, Ferrari lie fourth in the constructors’ standings, with little over a third of the points scored by their leading rival. The Red Bull drivers are revelling in the confidence their car gives them, and a clear advantage in terms of straight-line speed.

“We can do overlays with the Red Bull, which is the benchmark at the moment. We can look at where we’re missing out on performance, and we can be quite specific on how to improve those areas,” said Clear.

Ferrari Miami Grand Prix car updates, 2023
Sensitive floors are critical to performance in 2023
“Overall, we’re just trying to get more downforce and less drag. That’s what everybody is trying to do. But the subtleties are very powerful these days, because you’re not going to find 2%, 3%, 4% of downforce just like that.

“You can move the air around slightly, do effectively what we say is ‘close the balance window’: Give the driver a more consistent balance through medium-speed, high-speed, low-speed and of course braking and entry, and then exit. All those areas where the floor is moving around a lot. We can try and make the car a bit more benign and that makes it more predictable for the driver.”

As much as Leclerc and Sainz want to go from fighting for top-five finishes to claiming podiums and challenging Red Bull for wins, and their strong one-lap pace in qualifying can help set them up to achieve that, if they don’t feel comfortable driving the upgraded car then they’re going to be more likely racing under the limit to avoid crashes.

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That’s a lesson Leclerc learned over the Miami weekend as the improvement in stability and consistency was by enough of a margin to convince him driving at the limit was possible, until he crashed out of qualifying.

Leclerc briefly led the Red Bulls in Baku
“One of the reasons we brought [the upgrade] here is because the area it’s working on, which is predominantly the medium-speed, high-speed stability, this is a track that’s going to expose that. As we saw yesterday,” Clear explained on the morning of the race.

“But we put it on one car on Friday, and we had a little bit of a back-to-back across the cars. We’re quite comfortable that it’s doing as we expected, so both cars migrated to it in the afternoon. And it has been performing as we expected it to, and indeed both drivers are much more comfortable with the car through the medium-speed, high-speed stability.

“Maybe what happened yesterday with Charles is actually a testament to that. He was really, really going for it in those high-speed turns four, five, six curves, and what you saw was what you saw.”

He added: “It’s always a combination of both [aerodynamic and mechanical balance]. I think with a new aero package over the winter, we’ve taken a while to find the set-up, and we know that we made some progress in Australia and certainly we made some big progress in Azerbaijan. This floor contributes again to getting the car in a better window.

“The drivers were reporting earlier on that it is peaky. So we need to get rid of some of that peakiness and that’s probably the main focus at the moment, to make the car a bit more benign so the drivers have a bit more confidence.”

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However Clear admitted that “what we can’t quite align is how those differences turn out to be so significant” and it remains to be seen whether in order to improve their race pace they may “have to take a hit in qualifying.” One-lap pace has been the SF-23’s notable strength so far, and team principal Frederic Vasseur believes the car’s race performance can be brought up to that level of competitiveness.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Report: Ferrari won’t tell Leclerc to “calm down” after third crash in eight days
The natural peakiness of ground effect cars was evident in Miami where cars became particularly unsettled when riding over kerbs. Drivers had complained about those kerbs in 2022, particularly Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who had a hairy moment in the same corner sequence as Leclerc in qualifying, but didn’t make it as far as the barriers. Clear said the two incidents show Ferrari are not alone in falling foul of the limits of ground effect cars.

“Max’s first run in quali three, he had the same issue. Not quite so dramatically, but he aborted his lap having the same wobble over that kerb. Obviously a ground effect car when it hits the kerb, you’re shedding most of your downforce sort of instantly.

“We saw Charles bottom out on the kerb in turn six. In that scenario, the car will be very tricky. But as I say, I think quite ironically it’s a testament to what we’ve done to improve the car through the high-speed that Charles felt he could go for it on that last lap in qualifying and just pushed too far.”

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2023 Miami Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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11 comments on “A sign the upgrades worked? Ferrari see an upside to Leclerc’s Miami crashes”

  1. The thing about drivers who cannot even keep within the limits when they’ve already stepped over them once is that it really doesn’t matter how good a car you give them, they’re always going to find a way to stuff it in the wall at the most inopportune times.

    But I get it, Ferrari have a few more years on their contract with Charles and the guy they allowed to buy their second seat is just all-around worse. So making lemonade is the order of the day. (week, month, or even their year)

    1. @proesterchen
      Telemetry suggests that Charles attacked the curve in which he span in the exact same way he did in his first run. How do you figure ?

      1. Throttle graphs don’t show you that Charles put the car at least one tyre width closer to the Apex of T6 in his second Q3 lap compared to his earlier attempts, which then directly led to bottoming out and losing control.

        (and let’s not even start with his brilliant idea of opening up the breaks mid-spin, which landed him in the barriers in the first place)

  2. Seeing the troubles Ferrari and Mercedes have with the 2023 car development you’ve got to have huge respect for RedBull to create this almost perfect RB19.

    1. 100% agree. It’s what F1 is all about.

  3. That inside corner had a drop off which he didnt learn the 1st time he did it, nothing to do with car limits.

  4. Bring the radio transcripts for Checo and Max please.

  5. “The changes are quite subtle. If you’re looking for the changes, they’re going to be quite difficult to spot. But actually in aerodynamic terms they’re quite powerful. So it’s just a response to the feedback we’ve had from the drivers through the first four races of the year in where the car is deficient.”

    What a joke. Is it difficult to spot in terms of visibility on the car or car performance? If anything, Ferrari took a step back with this upgrade. Both drivers said they can’t really push the car, and their quicker driver lost control of the car in quali and even complained of bouncing on raceday.

    Why would Ferrari even make a press release after such disastrous development work? And who are they trying to fool with these convoluted “subtle” changes that seemed to have worked but hasn’t delivered performance or driver satisfaction.

    For a person with Clear as his last name, there is nothing clear about what he is talking about.

  6. Ferrari has spent too much money on “buying time.”

  7. Coventry Climax
    11th May 2023, 20:20

    Quintessential Ferrari: Happy with underperforming cars and bad results, failing to recognise that that mentality is not going to get them anywhere – ever.

  8. So its faster now, but also wants to kill you when you are on the limit. Nice

Comments are closed.