July 13, 2024
Sainz: Ferrari had first warning signs over F1 race pace in 2022

The Spaniard and his team-mate Charles Leclerc have struggled for much of this season with their SF-23 proving to have a lack of consistency, especially on Sundays.

This has left the duo unable to take the fight to Red Bull in grands prix, even though in qualifying the car has often shown itself to be quite close to the RB19.

Ferrari has seen signs of progress in recent weeks with its understanding of what it needs to do, but it is still not yet at a stage where it feels confident it has addressed all the factors at play.

Reflecting on why Ferrari faced the unexpected difficulties, Sainz thinks that there was already evidence last year about there being a race-pace question mark over its F1 challenger.

“If you analyse it a bit as a bigger picture, already towards the second half of last year you could see that we had a car capable of fighting for pole positions but, in the race, we were always getting beaten by Red Bull,” Sainz told Autosport in an exclusive interview.

“People a lot of times were blaming it on the strategy. But actually, I think a lot of times we were just never as fast as them in the race, like in Budapest or in Austin, or places where we put it on pole and then we went backwards.

“Maybe the difference there was that we were on pole by one-tenth, and then on race pace, we were down by two or three-tenths.

“But the delta itself this year is we are half a second off in some qualifying, and then eight-tenths in the race. So, it’s some bigger deltas maybe.”

One lap pace has often been an asset but Ferrari has been unable to translate this into race trim

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Concept timing

The emergence of doubts over the race-pace consistency of Ferrari’s car last year came after the squad had already committed to the concept of its SF-23, so weaknesses got baked into the design for this season.

Sainz said Ferrari had no way of knowing at that stage what the situation was, especially as rival Red Bull did not really hit its stride until the middle part of the season.

Reflecting on the timing of Ferrari committing to the 2023 design, Sainz said: “I think it’s something interesting because, if you look back at last year, by the time this car was born, it was when we were still super competitive.

“So, we didn’t have time to know what the second part of the season was going to be like. We didn’t know this car was going to struggle on race pace.

“We were fast in the race, and fast in quali, in the first six, seven races of the season. And that’s why probably this car is born this way.

“Also, because it’s after six/seven races where you commit to a car or to a concept, maybe even those strong first six races of the [2022] season also made us trust maybe this concept and this car.

“Maybe if the second half of the season, it would have come earlier, maybe the first half [of 2023] would have been easier. You can see it both ways.

“That is why F1 is so complicated, and F1 is so difficult to understand. It’s so easy to criticise from the outside. You just need to take it in the chin, be reactive, make sure you take the right steps and keep working as a team.”

Sainz says its concept for 2023 was locked in before the extent of its weakness relative to Red Bull was realised

Sainz says its concept for 2023 was locked in before the extent of its weakness relative to Red Bull was realised

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Ferrari car ‘can surprise you’

While it took Sainz some time to get comfortable with the 2022 car, he has appeared more on top of things this year – even though the car is not as competitive relative to the opposition.

But despite the outside appearances, Sainz has admitted that the SF-23 is not a car that inspires confidence when taken to the limit.

“I’m not going to lie, the feeling with the car is still not great,” he said. “It is not a car that I drive to the limit, and I’m comfortable with it on the limit.

“It’s a car that can surprise you. It’s a car that is difficult. You can see it from the outside, but at least I understand more or less how I need to set it up and how I need to drive it.

“If I have these two variables covered, I know that every given weekend, I know I can put the car more or less where it needs to be.

“With the exception of Baku, which is still a weekend I don’t understand and I will never understand, every other weekend, I’ve been more or less where the car has to be. And in that sense, I am proud of it.

“But I’m also not happy because still I want to enjoy more, and I want to push more and I want to not go backwards in the race.

“I want to look forward. I don’t want to spend races looking in the mirrors. And this is what we’re trying to improve now.”

Sainz says the 2023 Ferrari has traits that can

Sainz says the 2023 Ferrari has traits that can “surprise” its drivers

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Vasseur right man

Ferrari’s difficult transition into 2023 came against the backdrop of a management change, with team principal Mattia Binotto stepping down and being replaced by Fred Vasseur.

One of the concerns voiced after Binotto’s exit was that the team would lose technical continuity, with the Italian having a deep understanding of the design aspects of the car.

Asked if he felt Binotto’s exit had impacted things, Sainz said: “I don’t know and I will never know. We will never know how much of an effect it had. But I want to believe all the changes are for the better and it will pay off soon.

“I think we’re going to see progress. Honestly, I think that by how much we’re testing, and how much we are trying and all the things that we are discovering, there’s going to be a point where we start finding it. But time will tell.”

Sainz does believe, however, that the impact of Vasseur is now starting to be felt.

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“I do think everything is starting to work,” he said. “It is just that it’s very difficult to back it with proof when you have weekends like Barcelona, where you still feel a bit down.

“I feel like the more we do more weekends like Charles in Baku, me in Australia and there are positive weekends and more proof, the more encouragement we will have. But right now. I would say it’s difficult to show it.

“But I have full confidence in Fred, the way he’s handling things, and the way he’s leading the team. I must say I have been very impressed. And I’m getting on very well with him. I like how he thinks, his ideas and the direction that he sees for Ferrari.”

Sainz has confidence in team principal Vasseur to get Ferrari back to the summit

Sainz has confidence in team principal Vasseur to get Ferrari back to the summit

Photo by: Ferrari

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