Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023

Leclerc fears no team will catch up to Red Bull before 2026

2023 Dutch Grand Prix

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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fears teams will have a tough time catching Red Bull before the next major regulations change in 2026.

Red Bull and Max Verstappen have dominated the last two seasons since the introduction of ground effect aerodynamics into the sport at the start of 2022. The team have won every round of the 2023 season so far and have only lost a single race in the last 12 months.

Leclerc and Ferrari were Red Bull’s closest rivals at the last round at Spa-Francorchamps before the summer break, but finished over half a minute behind race winner Verstappen.

Asked by RaceFans in Zandvoort ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix whether any of Red Bull’s rivals might catch them in the seasons ahead, Leclerc was not optimistic.

“That’s what we are trying to work towards but, for sure, they have a really big margin,” he said. “It’s going to be very, very difficult to catch them before the change of regulations.”

Red Bull have won 29 of the 34 grands prix held since the start of 2022, with three of those remaining five won by Leclerc. Although he has been able to get close to them in qualifying, and took pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Leclerc said Red Bull’s advantage is especially strong in races.

“It’s different than in the past in the way that in qualifying we are all much closer than what we have seen in the past,” Leclerc explained.

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“Normally when we see a team dominating, it was qualifying and the race. But now, for some reason with Red Bull, it’s much more in the race than in qualifying – the gaps are much bigger in the race than in qualifying and that’s why we are all working towards our race pace, because Red Bull is just so far ahead.

“There’s still a lot of work to do. We have some developments in the next few races that can help us do a step forward. But also with this car, we can have some unexpected surprise because they are such sensitive cars that a small change can have a big influence. And hopefully it will be the case for us.”

Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur told media including RaceFans this week he is pursuing an aggressive recruitment drive to their technical division to improve performance. Leclerc says it will take some time for his team to overcome the gap to the champions.

“We have already some really, really good engineers within the team,” said Leclerc. “I think new people will only help to have different points of view and help us grow even better.

“But then apart from all of this, obviously looking at the gap there is from Ferrari to Red Bull – on race days especially – this requires time.”

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2023 Dutch Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
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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40 comments on “Leclerc fears no team will catch up to Red Bull before 2026”

  1. Leclerc fears no team will catch up to Red Bull before 2026

    Totally justifiable.
    But there’s no need to be scared of the inevitable – it will still happen regardless of fear.

  2. The only team capable of catching up to Red Bull was Mercedes, who spent 1.5 seasons with a failed concept. They might be the only team capable of launching a title fight in 2026, before the regulations change again and another team dominates for the next 5 years.

    Ferrari were never going to catch up to Red Bull. At the mid point in the 2022 season, it was already clear that Ferrari had peaked and were going downhill.. that downhill trend will continue in 2023 and all through the next regulation change, where again they will peak for around 6 to 8 races, and continue rolling downhill. Ferrari needs to realise that they are not a championship contending team anymore. Their job is to merely put in respectful performances for as long as they exist.

    1. Ferrari will likely next year come with an illegal moving aerodynamic tunnel part, that will bring them 2 sec and win every race before being found out.

      1. Ferrari will likely next year come with an illegal moving aerodynamic tunnel part, that will bring them 2 sec and win every race before being found out.

        I keep hoping that they would apply the inventiveness they put into the illegal tech and produce a legal bit of brilliance.
        However, in a more realistic frame of mind, I think I will be watching them succeed at failing for some while yet.

      2. @maxv

        If Ferrari have proved anything… it is that they can use illegal tech and still not be championship contenders. That is how the sad the situation at Ferrari is.

  3. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    24th August 2023, 14:11

    I have to agree. The way Red Bulls are overtaking other cars is similar to another classification as many have pointed out. They don’t need DRS and they don’t even need long straights to slipstream and overtake.

    1. As Leclerc notes, the main difference is in race pace. In particular, Red Bull seems to have no meaningful tyre wear (relatively speaking of course). All the talk about aerodynamics seems to be a bit of a red herring; the car is not that much better in qualifying on pure pace. The biggest trick seems to be in the suspension.

      1. Indeed People forgot Red Bull changed their suspension to create a great race setup But with the dis avantage if heating up their tyres for qualifly (which hurts Perez even more as he likes to break late and doesn’t creat enought heat in his tyres)

  4. Too early for such pessimism.

    1. Really? Half-way through the season, and they’re still finishing half a lap ahead of the rest of the field?

      When would be an appropriate time for pessimism?

      Barring mechanical failure, do you REALLY think any other team is going to challenge Red Bull this weekend?

      1. its not about this weekend, he mentioned before 2026.. 2 full more years of pessimism isnt warranted. By the end of this year teams could already catch up, like merc did last year.

        1. Did Mercedes catch up last year? When? Brazil? Because a week later they were one full second off-the pace again.

          Easier to think that race was one poor weeked for Red Bull than Mercedes closing the gap as the 13 subsequent races more than prove.

          1. @ Edvaldo indeed Red Bull said they had made a big mistake with their Setup (because of the Sprint only 1 pratice)

    2. If anything, it’s too late, because it’s on it’s way to happen already.

    3. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      24th August 2023, 19:34

      @jerejj Red Bull are about to match their own record of 9 consecutive victories and the car is putting 20 seconds in 27 over the other Red Bull at full throttle while Max is joking about using up the tires and building another 20 seconds over Perez.

      As many have noted, Red Bull is a different classification car – it doesn’t need DRS or straights to overtake.

  5. generally what competitors say as they are about to win the next race in F1

    1. Yellow Baron
      25th August 2023, 5:46

      A race? A single race? Standards for competition have really dropped here then

  6. Good recognition.

    Even if someone catches up they’ll inevitably lose without massive bad luck for Max as no one is as good as him.
    So till he retires and has a competitive car, F1 is just gonna be one man domination at the top.

  7. Hard to blame them when the best of the rest teams are so bad that a good update from Mclaren (a mid-field team these days) was enough to put them on par or ahead of said teams after a year and a half of these regulations.

    Red Bull is evolving, developing their winner concept further and further. Mercedes and Ferrari are going sideways and getting all excited wheh they beat each other while Red Bull wins all races 30 seconds ahead of them.

  8. Can’t wait until the teams catch up and then the regulations change again so someone can be dominant /s

    1. Remember all that BS people fed us like Pat Symmonds and Ross Brawn in 2020 & 2021 about how great these new regulations would be and if one team was clearly ahead they wouldn’t be afraid to make extreme changes?

      It was all a load of cobblers wasn’t it. I find these new regulations to be the worst since 2009. Even the farty and slow 2014 cars delivered better racing than this.

      You can look back at the races where Mercedes were dominant, even when Vettel was extremely dominant in the second half of 2013 – they were still entertaining races. 2022 and 2023 have very little to show in the way of excellent and memorable races IMO.

      The only ones that really stand out in memory are the two at the beginning of 2022 with Leclerc and Verstappen fighting (Bahrain and Saudi Arabia) and Brazil 2022, I’d argue the rest have been extremely mediocre.

      They should have allowed the 2021 regulations to go another year after the excitement it delivered.

      1. “I’m not expecting huge disparity unless somebody makes a complete **-up.”
        ~ Ross Brawn in a March 2022 interview with the English rag Daily Express.

        Too bad that ‘someone’ turned out to be all 8 other teams.

        1. Too bad these new regulations have made F1 cars look about as responsive as a truck.

          Drop the minimum weight, drop the wheel size, allow mutliple tyre manufacturers, allow refueling, open up aerodynamic and engine restrictions so Red Bull king of aero can compete with Mercedes king of engine and finally drop the cost-cap that is impossible to police.

          That to be would be the pinaccle of motorsport, not this crap.

          1. The pinnacle of motorsport wouldn’t lead to better competition.. in fact.. there would be a higher chance of domination by the team that has the best tyre manufacturer (and be its sole customer), aero and engine combination .. not to mention the deepest pockets. Mercedes might develop the best engine and Red Bull the best aero.. but that doesn’t mean they will be fighting up front. Just look at the current season as an example.

  9. It’s slowly dawning on the F1 inner circle that what was once development is really just refinement these days, and as with all such things, once someone is ahead they’re ahead. All the more so with resources and testing times capped, which ensures everyone slowly gets better at the same – or at least at a maximum – rate, so it becomes virtually impossible to lose that advantage.

    The cost cap should have been combined with a gradual relaxation of the rules so a deficit in one area can be offset with an advantage in another. Instead, the 2026 engines are going to be so restrictively regulated that they’ll have to be just about identical to be legal for use in F1.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      24th August 2023, 19:40

      The cost cap did NOT anticipate a team building such a massive advantage. Mercedes’ gamble on their design backfired and now we’ll have 5 seasons without any racing… I actually wonder what Drive To Survive will be about and whether they’ll only make it in Dutch and limit it to Netflix in Belgium and the Netherlands.

      I would not be surprised if Red Bull are sandbagging in the race to avoid lapping the entire field.

      1. Lapping the field is extremely rare, I remember brazil 1994 (and only cause senna spun and retired) and australia 1995 for example, I’m not sure if there’s been more recent cases, so if they are in a position to do it they should go for it, as they’re already making plenty of records.

        I’m actually curious if they have the pace to do it, in a regular track, assuming 60 laps and 1 min 30 per lap they’d have to gain 1,5 sec per lap, in an era of conserving fuel and tyres very unlikely, any SC also kills that possibility.

        1. Yellow Baron
          25th August 2023, 5:50

          I believe they easily have the pace to do it. Especially at some tracks. More often than not max has been cruising while pulling out 20-30 second gaps. All while being told to stick to a laptime. They don’t want to show their hand too much.

      2. And ofc a decent perez race kills that possibility as well, he’s at best 20 sec slower over a race distance when he’s performing well.

  10. And that is a (unforeseen?) consequence of of the budget cap and development restriction.
    The fourth-fifth team can improve to reach the second-third teams, but not the frontrunner team.
    This makes it even more intense the best team advantage as there is not clear contender and everybody else gets tangled up while, in this case, VER opens 1sec per lap.

  11. “Normally when we see a team dominating, it was qualifying and the race. But now, for some reason with Red Bull, it’s much more in the race than in qualifying – the gaps are much bigger in the race than in qualifying”

    I hope Keith Collantine reads this. Because his end of year car performance rankings only ever look at qualifying pace. This current RB car is one of the most dominant ever built. Yet, i can envisage Keith’s end of year car rankings painting the picture that the Rb19 is barely the quickest…simply because he fails to incorporate race pace.

    1. It’s a good point, quali performance is sometimes way off compared to race performance, we had an opposite example I think the first race of 2018, where merc was like 7 tenths fastest in quali and some of us complained about domination, then actually in the race hamilton was only 2 tenths per lap faster than raikkonen, who was the faster ferrari driver as long as he was ahead that race, and overall the ferrari 2018 was a good enough match to fight for the championship assuming similar amount of mistakes.

  12. Really the only thing that can help the other teams at this point is if one of the three teams rumored to have breached the cost cap last season is Red Bull and the FIA hit them with a total ban on development as a repeat offender.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      24th August 2023, 19:43

      @g-funk even if they prove that Red Bull breached the cost cap, Horner will probably just cut them a personal check from his bonus so it doesn’t affect their season. Heck, they may even award them with a trophy for consecutive breaches!

      1. Ahah, fun one about the trophy! But a ban for development for red bull would be useful, I wonder how long they’d stay ahead, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still the leading team by the end of the season even with 0 development while the others went full out on it given the size of the advantage.

    2. I hadn’t heard of the rumor that 3 teams breached the budget last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is Red Bull as they were still arguing their case for the prior year 9 months into last year. Red Bull thought they were within the rules the first year so they would have been spending the same well into last year before they finally lost the argument.

  13. Yep. Budget cap has been a total bust for improving the racing at the front. Boring championships until 2026.

    1. Yellow Baron
      25th August 2023, 5:53

      And the cars have become harder to follow since last season. This likely won’t improve. Since I started watching other motorsports and sports in general I’ve come to realise F1 isn’t really a sport. Most of the time it’s a parade and sometimes you get a great show. Unfortunately I can’t be patient with it anymore. Thank you to liberty and to the passage of time

  14. With all the whinging about RedBull dominance, halfway thru the season mind you, I hope they win everything til 2026!

    The most recent form of dominance lasted 3 years as well. I’d love for one of the authors on this site to go back to `14-16 and pull up some comments about how the other teams just need to ‘get on with it’. ‘X-team built the perfect car, the others just didn’t do a good enough job. End of.”


  15. what’s he talking about? they already caught one Red Bull.

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