Ferrari on its tyre wear headache: 'We do not have the answer right now'


Ferrari's graining issues have come rather wearing for Maranello, as its problems preserving tyres were brutally exposed in Paul Ricard

Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc drives during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, on June 20, 2021. (Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

Ferrari – and particularly Charles Leclerc – struggled badly with tyre wear in Paul Ricard, meaning it was the first time in 2021 that neither car scored points


While naturally most of the focus at the French GP was in the fabulous battle for the win between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, there was much intrigue going on behind.

And among the most startling aspects of the Paul Ricard race was the dismal performance of Ferrari. Indeed Charles Leclerc, the man who earned stunning poles in both Monaco and Baku, finished only 16th in a race that saw no retirements.

Meanwhile his team-mate Carlos Sainz – fifth in qualifying and thus “best of the rest” behind the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers – tumbled down to 11th place, crossing the line some 99 seconds behind the winner, just in front of the Williams of George Russell.

“It was a further demonstration of the power that tyres have over modern F1”

Watching main rivals McLaren get Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo home in fifth and sixth, bagging useful points, made it even worse for the Maranello team.

Ferrari failing to score points having started both its cars well inside the top 10 was a further demonstration of the power that tyres have over modern F1, and just how hard it is to get it right.

The team’s season can be summed up by saying that the car works its tyres well over one lap in qualifying, which generally flatters its overall potential. Come the races the tyres cry enough and the drivers find themselves slipping helplessly down the order.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Ferrari SF21 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Carlos Sainz qualified fifth, but was powerless to stop himself finishing outside the points eventually

Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Leclerc didn’t get a chance to show what he could do from pole in Monaco, but in Baku he dropped back to fourth, even with Hamilton’s late departure from the points.

France was far, far worse. Having been bullish about race prospects – Sainz even believed that Pirelli’s higher rear pressures would help Ferrari by handicapping rivals who might have been running low – the team had a disastrous afternoon.

It was mainly about front graining, which in Leclerc’s case became so bad that he was forced into an extra pit stop just to get to the end.

Indeed the Monegasque driver was already in trouble in qualifying, when he was outpaced by his team-mate.

“I just couldn’t drive around the limitation that we’ve had all weekend” Charles Leclerc

“I just couldn’t drive around the limitation that we’ve had a little bit all weekend, struggling a little bit with the front,” he admitted when asked by Motor Sport. “But to be honest, it’s more coming from me than from the car. It’s a limitation that Carlos and I had, and Carlos just did a better job driving around that issue.

“And I just struggled in qualifying to drive around it. So it’s more something that is coming from me that I will analyse after qualifying and to understand what I could have done better with my driving to help a little bit the car today.”

Sunday would prove to be even tougher. So why did the team get it so wrong on this particular occasion? Various factors were at work, but heavy rain on race morning that washed away the rubber left down over the previous day’s running was certainly one of them, as the track changed considerably.

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However, France was not an outlier. There is something in the package that the team hasn’t got on top of, and the freeze on development applied to the 2020-’21 cars makes it even harder for the team to dig its way out of the hole it is in.

“We have a very narrow window where we manage to make the tyres work,” Leclerc explained after the race. “And somehow it’s very difficult for us to always be in that particular window to make them work.

“And today we clearly didn’t manage to put them in that window, and we just really struggled, especially with degradation. From lap five or six of every stint we struggled more than the others.”

Team boss Mattia Binotto is the man in the spotlight who now has to find a way to get Ferrari’s season properly back on track.

“I think that we have not been able or capable of making the tyres working, as we should have done,” said the Italian. “And I think that our performance was really strictly linked to the tyres, the way we make them work.

“I think today the track was slower, less grip. Maybe the rain of the morning, a greener track, so having less grip, we are sliding more, and when you start sliding more you create graining. Certainly on our car it has been worse than the others.

“But I think as compared to the previous days, I think simply the track today was more green and more slippery.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Scuderia Ferrari SF21 makes a pitstop during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

A Hapless Leclerc had to make an extra stop to just make it to the end – he finished 16th

Peter Fox/Getty Images

“Out of the points, it’s a long time that it was not happening. I don’t think it’s reflecting really the true pace of our car, or the true performance of the car itself. But no doubt that there is something that we need to learn and to address, if not for the near future, the certainly for the medium and long term.”

Intriguingly Binotto admitted that there were warning flags raised at the same venue at the last French GP in 2019, and that the team should have heeded them.

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“We knew coming here that it would have been a difficult circuit in that respect,” he said. “High-speed corners where you’re putting a lot of energy into the tyres, hot conditions. If I look at here two years ago I think we were again already struggling.

“So I think that whatever is our car characteristic, it is not a track which is suiting us well. But no doubt that, again it’s two years that we had a problem, and we should have addressed it. It’s not yet the case.

“Somehow looking at the future it is important for us, as a lesson learned, to make sure that this time we take the opportunity of really putting effort to solve it.”

It’s tempting to suggest that, contrary to what Sainz expected, Ferrari was hurt more than rivals by the higher mandated pressures. However as Binotto pointed out that concerns the rears, and the main issue is at the other end of the car.

“I don’t think it had any impact. If I look at the prescriptions it has been raised only on the rear, and I think that today we had the main issue on the front. So in terms of running and preparations nothing has changed for us. Nothing about the prescriptions on the rear has been the issue of today. So the answer is a clear no.”

Leclerc French GP 2021

Ferrari admits it’s slightly lost in how to deal with its wear issue

Grand Prix Photo

This is a tough time for the two Ferrari drivers, who have often displayed great pace in qualifying, but have rarely really been able to really show what they can do on Sundays.

“It’s been a tendency, and I’m not going to lie,” said Sainz. “It’s something that it’s been in the back of our minds going a bit into every race. We know that we tend to struggle a bit more in the races than in quali.

“But I must say that there’s also been a couple of weekends this year where this issue hasn’t appeared. For example, in Barcelona the race pace wasn’t an issue. It is also clear that we have a very narrow window of working range on our front tyres, and we tend to struggle a lot more with graining or with front wear than our competitors, and probably compared to the whole field.

“And it’s now about trying to understand why we have such a narrow window? Why do we struggle more with this front tyre wear compared to our competitors? It’s evident, and it’s obvious. You don’t need to be a genius to see where we are clearly struggling.”

Sainz admitted that in France what made things worse was that on Friday had looked promising, and then somehow things slipped away from the team come race day.

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“On Friday we didn’t face this issue,” said Sainz. “And we were probably inside that narrow window of performance that we have, and we looked very strong on race pace. Also our front wear numbers didn’t look bad, we were actually looking reasonable, that’s why [Saturday] night we went to bed very confident.

“On the laps to the grid, the track was very, very tricky. I actually had a moment there, I nearly lost the car in Turn 11. So this already told me that the track was in very, very different conditions.

“But it’s not an excuse, because the others, with the very different conditions, a track one and a half seconds slower than Friday, they didn’t have graining, and we did. Which means we just have a narrower window of performance, and we need to work on our car understanding to see how we can make this window wider and better.”

So how does the team address it? As noted the development freeze is a huge handicap, and in essence changes are limited to the bodywork – the team cannot even introduce new wheel rims with different aero characteristics that might help it to address the tyre overheating issues.

The other problem is that all teams are devoting more and more resource to their 2022 projects, and the current problems are an unwelcome distraction. In fact Binotto admits that the focus has to be on not having similar tyre issues with the new car.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Scuderia Ferrari SF21 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Ferrari fell prey to Alpine and McLaren on Sunday – can they out-develop them for 2022

Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

“I think obviously we may improve the situation,”but to solve it I think we need to have some hardware change, like for example the rims, which is not possible by regulation. I think it’s more important for us at this stage really to try to understand and to address it definitively for next year.

“In the meanwhile I think this issue may happen again on some races, but not all the tracks. It is somehow quite track and weather conditions-related. But we need to prepare ourselves to face such a situation in the future, and at least try to mitigate the problem, since it will happen again this year.”

“I do not have an answer right now” Mattia Binotto

Refreshingly – and perhaps worryingly for Ferrari fans – Binotto also admitted that the team is a little lost at the moment, and doesn’t know if there’s a fundamental issue in the car that is making life so hard for the tyres.

“I do not have an answer right now. I think what we need is really to be back, analyse all the data, have a brainstorming, do some simulations. I think that will be part of the homework that we need to do, as Carlos mentioned before. So I think that right now, I cannot answer the question.”

Austria will be an interesting case study, as there are two weekends on the trot, and thus plenty of opportunity for the team to experiment and get things right. It will be interesting to see if Binotto’s men can make any progress.