Charles Leclerc says the changes Ferrari have made to improve the SF-23’s performance have changed its handling in a way which doesn’t suit his driving style.Carlos Sainz Jnr scored the team’s first victory of the season last weekend. He took pole position for the second race in a row, while Leclerc qualified and finished behind him again.
While Leclerc is encouraged by the step forward the team has made since the summer break he said it has come at the expense of his comfort at the wheel of the car.
“I really hope it’s possible to reproduce that [Singapore result] in Suzuka,” said Leclerc. “I’m really looking forward to see that because if we do that, then it’s a really good sign for the future.”
The first signs of the team’s progress came at the Dutch Grand Prix. “In Zandvoort we’ve done many tests, in Monza we wanted to reconfirm those tests and the understanding we had from the car, and from here we applied everything and it seemed to do a big step forward,” said Leclerc.
“Having said that, Singapore has historically been a very good track for us, so we need to wait one more race in order to see whether we have done a really good step forward consistently or whether it’s a one-off.”
Leclerc was full of praise for his team mate, who is now 19 points ahead of him in the standings. Before the Dutch Grand Prix, the first race after the summer break, Leclerc was ahead by seven.
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“Carlos, in Monza and here, has been completely on it,” said Leclerc. “He’s been very, very strong. It’s great to have him on such form because it pushes me also to understand a bit more my driving style and try to fit my driving style to this car.”
Leclerc said the team have given the SF-23 a more understeer-prone balance to make it more predictable to drive, but he finds it harder to drive the car quickly as a result.
“I’m not completely comfortable with the car at the moment,” he said. “There’s a bit too much understeer for my liking, and I struggle to drive around it.
“Because of the unpredictability of the car, I cannot have the oversteer that I want. So there’s a bit of work to do, but it’s first of all great to see that at least the competitiveness seems to be up there.”
The SF-23 was challenging to drive “straight away from the first race, just because we’ve got this very unpredictable car”, said Leclerc. Ferrari found that to rectify that they “need to be on the safe side by balance-wise, because we cannot run with a lot of front.”
“It’s not that it’s an understeery car, but it’s just you have to put understeer in the car to make it predictable. And this is a bit tricky,” Leclerc added.
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He aims “to try to catch up” over the coming races. “The last two race weekends haven’t been the best on my side,” he admitted.
“I’m really pushing to try and do that step forward, and to hopefully look also medium-term what we can do for me to be a bit more comfortable in the car.”
He warned the team should “not get carried away too much” by their recent front-running form, following Red Bull’s poor weekend in Singapore.
“I think Red Bull is always the main guys to beat and I think in Japan they will be back to where they used to be,” he said. “So let’s wait and see. I mean, if we really understood that much and that honestly, I mean, if we did that much of a step forward, I don’t think it’s expected. So it will be a good surprise.”
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