There is a big gap in the constructors’ standings between Ferrari in fourth and Mercedes in second, but the former feel they can be Formula 1’s second fastest team on track.
However Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur insists the Scuderia are “moving forward”, based on their results heading into the summer break.
“If you have a look on the first 12 races, it’s clearly up and down, really tight,” he said. Tiny errors make a significant difference in the fight to be closest to Red Bull, and that can make it hard to identify where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
“The most difficult part of the job is to understand what is going well and what is going wrong and where we can improve,” he said.
While Aston Martin started as Red Bull’s closest rival but has since dropped back, Mercedes was initially off the pace but now is the second-best team on race pace. McLaren have also dramatically improved their form recently.
Meanwhile Ferrari’s form has fluctuated. They finished in the top five in seven of the first 12 grands prix, with their longest streak of top-five finishes only being three races. But Vasseur takes confidence from the way the team have bounced back from less competitive weekends in 2023.
“I think the reaction of the team from the beginning of the season was a good one. They remember that Jeddah was very tough for us and the reaction after Jeddah, for me, was a good one. Everybody was pushing in the same direction.”
He has drawn particular encouragement from how the team has closed on and overtaken Aston Martin. “We know that with the regulations and the cost cap, it’s not so easy to change completely the game during the season.
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“But if you have a look, we had in terms of performance compared to Aston Martin for example, they were much faster than us in Jeddah. And now we are not always, but in general in front of them.”
But while Ferrari did not enter 2023 expecting Aston Martin to be a threat, they are now focused on giving a more of a fight to Mercedes. However Vasseur admits they are unlikely to overturn their rival’s 56-point lead over them.
“There is a huge gap with Mercedes in terms of points,” he said. “When I have a look on the first part of the season, we missed too many opportunities.
“It means that we have to do a better job on this one to be much more opportunistic on the second part of the season. For sure we need something a bit special, if we want to catch up Mercedes.”
He believes they can make their SF-23 a match for the W14 in race trim. “Most important for me is to catch up Mercedes in terms of pace. It means that to stay in front of them in terms of pure performance in qualifying, to improve a little bit and to be in front of them in the race pace. Then I don’t know if we will finish second or not, it’s another story. But I want to do a step forward in terms of pure performance compared to Mercedes for the second part of the season.”
“So far we are a bit faster on average than them in quali,” Vasseur added. “We have to do the improvement on the race pace”.
The chasing pack behind Red Bull are so close together Vasseur is reluctant to predict who may come out ahead this weekend.
“We have a group behind Red Bull. Sometimes [competing] with Red Bull in quali, but not in the race so far. We have a group with Mercedes, Aston, McLaren, sometimes Alpine, able to fight for the first rows.
“That means that it’s an exciting challenge, an exciting situation because when you are going somewhere, you never know if you will be P2 or P10. But no misunderstanding, I would prefer to be sure to be one and two. But it’s exciting for the fans and for the championship.
“And I think it’s a bit of a mistake to anticipate too much, because that it’s so tight that I think it’s quite impossible to predict if in Zandvoort or in Monza we will be in a good shape.”
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2023 Dutch Grand Prix
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- “Too early to say” if podium signals return to form for Aston Martin – Alonso
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- Ferrari had the “sixth or seventh fastest car” at Zandvoort – Sainz