Ferrari's fightback plan after 'nightmare' F1 form


Ferrari has lost its way on the F1 development path in recent months, while its race strategy has fallen apart too – Leclerc, Sainz and Vasseur explain the team's plan to get back on track

4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2024 British GP

Leclerc has endured a tough run since his Monaco win

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At the Monaco GP back in May Charles Leclerc and his Scuderia Ferrari team celebrated a fantastic victory in the most prestigious race of the year, one that exorcised a few ghosts for Leclerc after a run of misfortune at his home race.

Having scored some solid results in the first part of the year, including a win for Carlos Sainz in Australia, it looked at the time as though the red team would be a serious challenger to the hitherto dominant Red Bull – notwithstanding a surge in form from McLaren that saw Lando Norris win in Miami and Oscar Piastri chase Leclerc home in Monaco.

However since then things have fallen apart somewhat. In four race weekends Leclerc’s only score in a GP was fifth in Spain, while Sainz has had better results, although his only podium finish was third in Austria after the Norris/Verstappen clash gifted him two places.

For Leclerc in particular it’s been a perfect storm of circumstances, with an engine issue and a disastrous slick tyre gamble in the rain in Canada, first lap wing damage in Austria, and then a poor qualifying and another failed tyre choice at Silverstone. Sainz has had slightly less misfortune, although he did spin off in Canada.

4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2024 Canadian GP

Poor tyre strategy sent Leclerc the wrong way in Canada


That Montreal weekend saw both drivers struggling for pace at what can be a quirky venue. What really hit them latterly was an aero package introduced in Spain that promised much on paper, but in fact set them back.

In both Barcelona and Spielberg the SF-24 suffered from bouncing at high-speed, a phenomenon that hasn’t been talked about much this season but which, as Ferrari found, can still be triggered if you don’t get your sums right.

It was so pronounced on Leclerc’s car at the start of the Silverstone weekend that it was decided for Saturday to revert both cars to the package first seen in May at Imola, in order to have something that was more consistent and gave them more confidence.

“We are basically with the same car as in Imola” Carlos Sainz

That Imola spec was only a couple of months old but, in the context of the current F1 development race, to take a step back while others are piling on the new bits and making marginal gains is nothing short of a disaster in lap time terms. With rain in FP3 affording less preparation time for Silverstone qualifying it was especially tough for Leclerc, who had run the newer bits on Friday, while Sainz had the older version.

Given how complex the sport now is, an upgrade that doesn’t work as planned is something that teams encounter from time to time. Mercedes is on a roll right now but only after a couple of years of pain, while this year Aston Martin has also struggled to add performance with upgrades.

“Clearly not good enough,” said Sainz when Motor Sport asked him about the current situation. “We are basically with the same car as in Imola.

“Since Imola, everyone has upgraded, and they’ve probably added a few tenths to the car, while we had to revert, and we’ve lost two or three months there of performance gain in the wind tunnel and performance that we could have added in these three months.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2024 British GP

Ferrari has experienced a return of porpoising in recent rounds


“So clearly, we haven’t taken the right calls recently, but I feel like today was at least back to basics approach, back to a car that we know was okay in Imola, and we just need to upgrade it from here. But unfortunately it’s clear that our rivals are a good step ahead of us.”

The frustration for all concerned is that for at least the past year Ferrari upgrades have got the job done. “The last 16 months now, all the upgrades that we brought had a very, very good correlation with what we did in the wind tunnel,” said team boss Fred Vasseur.

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“I think one of the assets of the team over last year was to bring some small upgrades. And each time it was paying off. This one, we had an issue, but it’s not because we had an issue once it’s the end of the world.”

The problem is that with the current generation of cars the wind tunnel doesn’t always tell you what will happen when the car hits the track.

“The correlation on the downforce is okay,” Vasseur insisted. “I think it’s still a question mark for everybody [all teams on the grid], that sometimes the bouncing is popping up like this, and it’s quite difficult to have a correlation, because you don’t have the bouncing in the wind tunnel.

“I don’t want to go deep in detail, but we all have metrics. You can anticipate that you will have more bouncing with this part than another one, but to know if it will have a negative impact on the performance, it’s another story.

“We changed the aero parts, and the bouncing appeared in Spain. To fix it you have tons of solutions. You have solutions with compromise on performance. You have solutions without compromise on performance, developing new packages.

“And I think we are there now. We’ll have to deal perhaps with the next race with the current car, and the sooner the better we’ll bring an upgrade with less bouncing.”

At Silverstone the team took a step back in order to take two forward, and with 12 races to go there’s still plenty of time in which to recover ground.

2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2024 British GP

Leclerc walks disconsolately past the podium finishers at Silverstone

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“I think we had exactly the same situation last year, almost at the same stage of the season,” said Vasseur. “Silverstone, Budapest, Spa, and we stopped it in Zandvoort to do a complete scan of the situation. And we had a good recovery, because the weeks after, we were there.

“What is tough in this situation is that when you have an issue you don’t have tests, proper tests, I would say, to fix it, or at least to understand it. And it’s quite difficult as a team sometimes to compromise or sacrifice Friday sessions when you know that you are losing a little bit of time during the weekend, and to say, okay, let’s forget about FP1, FP2, we focus on mid-term.

“And trust me, this decision as a team, it’s very difficult. It means that we put ourselves in a tough situation, but this we knew before, and it was even worse with the fact that the Saturday morning [at Silverstone] was with wet tyres.

“That for sure was not helpful. But it is like it is. We assumed the decision before the weekend, and I think it was the right call to do it.”

Carlos Sainz leads Lando Norris in 2024 F1 Monaco GP

Could ‘slow’ Hungary, similar to Monaco, suit the Scuderia?

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The next race in Hungary is an interesting case, as it’s a slow track with only a couple of quick corners. The newer package may well be quicker over the full lap.

“We will have to have a deep analysis on the weekend,” said Vasseur. “And consider the fact that Silverstone was by far the most aggressive track in terms of bouncing, with very high-speed corners and so on. But we’ll have time to discuss and to decide for Budapest.”

In fact the Frenchman is surprisingly upbeat about what the team gained from the Silverstone experimentation.

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“It’s difficult to say this after the result of today, but I think we did a step forward this weekend,” he said. “At least on the technical side, we have a much better understanding of the situation Sunday evening, than Friday morning, and this, I think it’s encouraging for the last part of the season.

Leclerc’s recent woes have not solely been related to the handling characteristics of the car, and the last thing he needed at Silverstone was a pitstop call that put him completely out of contention.

“It’s very hard, it’s very hard,” said the Monégasque when Motor Sport spoke to him after the race. “I mean, I don’t really have the words to explain it, but it’s been four races that it’s been worse than a nightmare. So I hope we can come back soon.

“It’s very difficult to look at positives in days like this. I just want to go back with the team, and we will analyse the way we are making those decisions on my side, and why we were on the wrong side today.”

Despite his frustration he conceded that the team made the right call in parking the new parts for the time being.

“It’s a tricky situation that we are in at the moment. The upgrade brought us the numbers that we were expecting, but also brought us quite a lot of bouncing in the high-speed, and for a track like this, we decided that it was probably better having a bit less performance, but having more consistency.

3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2024 British GP

Leclerc found himself on the right tyre at the wrong time yet again at Silverstone

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“Going forward, we’ll analyse all the data we had until now with the two packages, and try to understand if there’s anything we didn’t understand yet with the new one.”

Failed upgrades and failed pit gambles may make it sound like the team is losing the plot in different areas. However in this instance the two were actually related, given that Leclerc was compromised by going back to the old package only on Saturday, and suffering in qualifying as a result. He had to take risks.

“I think the car the last two races was at least not easy to drive, and it was asking a lot of the drivers,” said Vasseur. “Charles had the new package on Friday. We didn’t do the FP3 with the wet, and he had to go in quali with a car that he didn’t drive before. And he was in a very good shape until Turn 13, and he was faster than Russell until Turn 13.

“We are doing more mistakes than when it’s under control”

“I think that we were really at the limit of the car, We are doing more mistakes, perhaps, than when it’s under control. It’s true that as soon as you have a kind of bad momentum, you have the feeling that you have to compensate. And this is a mistake from the team, from the drivers, from everybody, because you can’t compensate.

“Basically, you have to be at the limit. It means that if something is going a bit less good, that you can’t do more than what you were doing before. I think it’s part of the reason of the call on the strategy.

Vasseur Leclerc

Ferrari team boss Vasseur is confident of a recovery

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“Starting P11, he had a very good start, but he came back behind Stroll. He lost 10 seconds behind Stroll. And at one stage, when you are 15 seconds off Carlos or Verstappen, you know that if you don’t do something mega, you won’t come back. And it’s probably part of the of the issue.”

The subtext to Ferrari’s current struggles is that they have dropped the team behind the resurgent Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who arrives at Maranello next year. The timing of the departure of technical director Enrique Cardile, who is heading for Aston, is also a little unfortunate.

But with Hungary offering the prospect of improvement, and Vasseur remaining optimistic, there’s no need yet for the former champ or his fans to start worrying.