Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Singapore, 2023

Ferrari’s “big step forward” brought unwelcome balance change for Leclerc

Formula 1

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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.

His team mate 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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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...
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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20 comments on “Ferrari’s “big step forward” brought unwelcome balance change for Leclerc”

  1. I’ve always felt that the biggest difference between a good driver and a great driver is that they a great driver doesn’t need a car to “suit” their driving style. A great driver changes their driving style to suit their car.

    So reading this is a big red flag for me, honestly, quite disappointing. I hope Leclerc proves me wrong.

    1. A great driver changes their driving style to suit their car.

      Various drivers found the change in car behaviour at SIngapore was detrimental to their performance. Alonso being one of the most notable to suffer.
      One driver demonstrated that a mere change in the tyre type in use was the difference between an utterly shocking car and one with a performance equal to the front-runners of the qualy/race.


      1. Did Alonso’s team mate win the race or have a good result?

        Did the one driver have a bad car and still almost beat Charles Leclerc in the race?


        1. I do tend to agree with @sjaakfoo when you say ¨ A great driver changes their driving style to suit their car ¨ , but this is not always the case particularly when sudden changes happen. For example, Lewis was beaten by George last season.

          Genuine question here: Did Leclerc have a very poor race and was unlucky? or Did Ferrari sacrifice him in order to secure a win?

          1. Leclerc was sacrificed – he even started on softs to get in front of Russel and protect Sainz. Then in last 15-20 or so laps he had an engine issue with high temperature so was quite slow.

    2. A great driver changes their driving style to suit their car.

      Up to a point. I think no one puts i question Ayrton or Prost, but both struggled with cars after both winning titles. Same for Hamilton he hated this Mercedes at season start, he never got grips with it. Max have been always in Redbull and Newey, i would like to see him have a challenge and move out of them.

      This Ferrari must be driven preferably like if all corners are 90º corners, pilots need to drive in V not U. You break straight then turn, you can’t have a mixed approach but that is not what Leclerc likes.

      1. Ferrari 643 / Alain Prost “a truck would be easier to drive than this car”

    3. Go drive the car then.
      Let’s see you put your opinions and theories into action, especially based on all the experience you have on the matter.

  2. This was an outlier race for me. Kudos to Sainz for the great strategy and win but the car has fundamental problem with understeering which atm suits a bit more Sainz.
    We will see in Suzuka if Ferrari made any kind of progress.

  3. There was talk during CS first season with Ferrari that the engineers preferred his input when it came to car development. Maybe there is something to that. Ferrari doesn’t really treat CL like a number 1 driver. They let him down repeatedly. He says all the right thing but is probably frustrated. Who knows maybe a replacement for LH in a few years. As for great drivers adapting to the car, I don’t think Max or Schumacher ever drove cars that weren’t developed with them in mind once they established themselves. CL raw speed seems to be lost at Ferrari for a multitude of reasons some of which are his fault too. I’d like to see him somewhere else.

    1. @Bobby Taylor
      But we just had an article where Perez claims (again) it doesn’t work that way. The team tries to design the fastest car. Not the fastest car for whomever.

      1. Bas, the Red Bull wasn’t DESIGNED for Max, I agree, but Bobby said DEVELOPED for Max, and that is quite plausible. I remember someone once saying that some drivers are just so much better at giving feedback than others. The engineer will ask what the car needs and one driver says “it needs to be faster, it’s just not fast enough, and it needs to be faster through the corners, and faster on the straights” and the other will say “it needs more traction on the front right on low speed corners”, or something like that. So of course, the engineers are going to develop the car in favour of the driver who can better understand the car and better explain what the issues with it are. Even if both drivers are equally good at explaining things, the engineers are naturally going to listen more to the driver who gets the most out of the machine. So it may not be a conscious choice by the designers, but it is still possible that a car is developed to suit one driver more than the other.

        1. @AlanD
          To me, that is just saying the same thing using different words. I don’t want to “attack” you on your example, but since it’s the one you gave: ‘more traction on the front right on low speed corners’ is a set-up issue. The context for a question like this is on a certain weekend, on a certain track, discussing where to go with set-up. Set-up ≠ development. Sure, one driver could nail a set-up he’s comfortable with while the other is struggling and you’ll see a performance gap there. But that is not what Leclerc was saying. (and not what I think you meant to say)

          I think the core of what you meant to say is, correct feedback can help development. If you provide useful feedback you’re more likely to be heard. That sounds like it makes sense and it probably does when you consider Nissany testing an F1 car and complaining it has too much grip, which would be funny if it wasn’t sad (2005?). But we’re talking about Ferrari and RBR drivers here. They’re all on the F1 stage for a long time, this is not their debut season. They have spent numerous hours racing/testing on track and in sims, working with engineers and developers. The team employ test drivers for this who put even more hours and feedback in and they can run simulations day and night. In those environments is impossible the team only listens to 1 source of feedback. And even then, if the feedback the designers receive results in a new aero part but the simulation show the car is slower, they won’t do it.

          It was in multiple Perez articles and although not explicitly stated, it’s in what Leclerc is saying as well. Designers try to design the fastest car. Leclerc is saying they found a step in performance but they had to introduce understeer to make it usable. The point is, they didn’t go and ask Sainz and Leclerc what they liked. Where Sainz said: I like understeer and Leclerc said oversteer. Then the designers said they liked Sainz better and tough luck to Leclerc. No they design the fastest car and it’s the drivers job to try and deal with it. Leclerc is saying he does not prefer understeer and needs to adapt to make the most of it, where it seems Sainz has found his way around its flaws a bit sooner. This matches what we read earlier with RBR. Perez said it took Verstappen until Baku to ‘find something’ in the car. He used ‘it’ from Miami onward and Perez doesn’t seem able to copy ‘it’.

          So this is based on what actual drivers said (Perez and Leclerc). Saying they develop a car to suit 1 driver is what is being said on forums by forum members. I’m sure if you dig for a bit you’ll find Leclerc ‘supporters’ who will claim ‘they’ did this because ‘they’ favor Sainz… I’m just sticking to what the more reputable sources say…

          1. Bas, you are taking my comment too literally. I was giving that as an example of something that drivers might say. I’m not an F1 driver (obviously) so I don’t know the terminology they might actually use. It was several years ago and I don’t remember the actual quote I am referring to, or who said it, except that it was on an F1 programme and it was someone notable from within a team explaining why this perception arises that the car is being designed around one driver more than the other, that ultimately it comes down to the quality of feedback the drivers give, and some drivers are simply better at this than others, and hence they will inevitably influence the development more.

  4. Leclerc like Max or Norris or Hamilton less, have huge control of controlling an oversteer car. They love the car to rotate in the corner and they are super fast if you give them this.
    Ferrari atm is not like that and that why Leclerc is frustrated. Sainz or Perez or bottas or any other “normal” driver, don’t like this and prefer an neutral or understeer car but fast laps come only with the 1st.

    1. I agree Chris, understeer v oversteer is probably the biggest single factor that can change how a car is suited to a driver’s driving style.

    2. And Ferrari except for F1-75 initially have had always understeering cars and sometimes appalling balance cars, it was the main reason that Raikonnen never truly shined when he came back.

      1. Also I think Kimi was a great Michelin master, possibly the greatest. That combination of Michelin and Newey made him the fastest on the grid by a hefty margin, and he was never quite as comfortable after he lost both.

  5. Enter The car is only developed for Carlos narrative.

  6. Great lesson for casual fans …

    There are more factors to performance than just a drivers natural ability.
    There are certain brands of tyre which have suited specific drivers / riders more than others throughout motorsport history, small differences in the rules between era’s which would make certain drivers competitive in one and weaker in another, then there’s team culture, circuit dynamics which either reward or penalize various strengths or weaknesses, and ambient / weather conditions.

    When Carlos was getting beaten by Charles last year, there were some very loud and arrogant Charles fans around.

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