MPH: Ferrari knows where its car is failing – but can't fix it


Ferrari is edging the fight for second-best on Saturday due to Charles Leclerc's heroics, but loses out as the weekend progresses

Charles Leclerc 2 Ferrari 2023 Saudi Arabian GP

Leclerc's qualifying heroics are masking inherent flaws in '23 Ferrari


Ferrari was clearly only the fourth-best car on race day in Jeddah last week. But in qualifying it was second only to the dominant Red Bull (disguised by Charles Leclerc’s grid penalty). The gap between second and fourth fastest car – between Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari – is currently small. From an admittedly small sample of two races, the Aston looks the best of that group on race days, the Ferrari with the edge in qualifying. But perhaps that latter is just a function of the acrobatics conjured by Leclerc over a qualifying lap.

So, where is Ferrari really at? Obviously a long way behind Red Bull, but then so is everyone. There is a lack of front end grip in the car which can be minimised on new tyres over a single lap, but which imposes a heavy toll on race day. There are upgrades on the way, but they won’t be in time for Melbourne next weekend.

On race day in Jeddah, the front tyre usage was the dominant problem, as Carlos Sainz articulated, “We still ‘deg’ more than the Mercs, we still deg more than the Astons, we still lack a bit of race pace. It’s tyre deg, balance, dirty air when following, we just struggle a bit. If we already overheat the tyres in clean air, imagine following. We just eat them alive and we need clean air to produce some kind of decent lap time.

Carlos Sainz Ferrari 2023 Saudi Arabian GP

Sainz spoke of difficulty of fighting tyre wear


“On the hards, I was pushing flat-out, Charles was pushing flat-out behind me and we just couldn’t keep up [with the Mercs]. I think this is just the true picture. The Merc and the Aston had maybe two- or three-tenths on us today but the Red Bull, at beginning of the stints, they have a second like in qualifying and then it opens up even more even on a good tarmac like here.”

In the 28 laps between the re-set of the safety car and the chequered flag, Sergio Perez, in his fight with team-mate Max Verstappen, pulled out half-a-minute on the Ferraris – an average of 1.1sec per lap – which were flat-out in trying to catch Hamilton’s Mercedes ahead.

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Yet in qualifying Leclerc got to within 0.155sec of Perez’s pole position time (closer than anyone else, but with a 10-place grid drop for component changes). Sure, some of that will have been the aforementioned masking of the basic lack of grip by brand new tyres. But not to the tune of 0.85sec (the difference between how far off it was in the race and in qualifying). Some of it has got to be Leclerc himself, at least when measured against Perez (given that Verstappen went out in Q2 with his driveshaft failure).

Looking at the respective final Q3 laps of Perez and Leclerc paints an illuminating picture. When compared to the Mercedes-engined cars, the Red Bull is clearly longer-geared. But the Ferrari has very similar gearing to the Red Bull – in top gear at least. Leclerc is still up-changing earlier (as was the case last year also) suggesting that the Ferrari’s lower gears may be lower (ie, numerically higher).

Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2023 Saudi Arabian GP

Leclerc’s best efforts cannot make up for the Scuderia’s lack of front-end grip

Grand Prix Photo

The Red Bull gains only 3km/h on the Ferrari by the end of the pit straight and between the start-finish line and braking for Turn 1-2 that buys Perez about half-a-tenth of lap time – but Leclerc claws all that back and more by being later off the throttle and on the brakes for that first sequence. Their apex speeds are around the same and they are neck and neck on the run up to the Turn 4-5 combination. But the braking advantage Leclerc was able to carry into Turn 1 is fading already. Perez is later onto the brakes, although Leclerc is able to maintain a higher apex speed and we can see in his manipulation of throttle and brakes that he is much more intricate here than Perez – and it buys the Ferrari time on the exit of the corner, so much so that Leclerc is back ahead of the Red Bull as they reach the braking zone of Turns 7-8 – and he again keeps a higher apex speed than the Red Bull.

He shouldn’t be able to do that. The Ferrari does not have the Red Bull’s downforce. He’s doing it by a more acrobatic balancing act between braking, cornering and throttle use. By the time they arrive at the far end of the circuit for Turn 13 they are still almost equal on elapsed time over the lap so far. But here’s where the Ferrari’s front tyres are beginning to really hurt and under braking from around 190mph to 100mph, Perez takes almost 0.1sec out of Leclerc. The pattern is clear: at the start of the lap Leclerc was braking later, by Turn 4-5 Leclerc is having to get busier to overcome the Red Bull’s later braking but is just about managing it. By Turn 13 the Red Bull’s braking advantage is too much for Leclerc to overcome.


Leclerc again carries more apex speed but now the Ferrari begins to understeer and Perez is able to get earlier and harder on the throttle, giving him a building advantage which only keeps on building for the rest of the lap. By Turn 20 Leclerc can no longer generate greater apex speeds and loses time both under braking and through the corner. His deficit of 0.155sec to the Red Bull represents a remarkable effort, but no-one is kidding themselves. With tyres which are fading even as the qualifying lap unfolds, the deficit is only going to get bigger with more laps – as confirmed the following day. The deficit is at its worst on the hard tyre, as the least grippy compound’s sliding is creating more overheating than on the softer tyres. Given that the hard tyre was required for more than half of the race, so the Ferrari was yet-more heavily punished.

Plus: the qualifying lap comparison was ‘only’ to Perez’s Red Bull. Earlier in the day, in FP3, Verstappen had lapped around 0.5sec faster than Perez and may well have done so again had he still been there in Q3.

So that’s where Ferrari is at: with a weak front end which might be fixed soon, it’s relying on Leclerc’s acrobatics to flatter it in qualifying but is no match for Aston Martin in the races, let alone Red Bull. Let’s assume they can fix the front end quickly. Maybe that could make them Aston-quick on race day on current form (but with possible productive Aston developments coming). But it’s not going to find them the thick end of 1sec per lap.

In Bahrain the car was 0.5sec quicker than the 2022 car had been, despite the regulation floor change which should have cost around 0.5sec. But the Red Bull was quicker by almost 1sec. The different track characteristics of Jeddah saw the Red Bull doing about the same qualifying time as last year, but with the Ferrari losing almost 0.2sec. In other words, Red Bull has moved the goal posts.