Ferrari Drivers And Team Principal Speak About Their Performance In China, “Strange” Tyre Struggles And More

3 Gp Messico F1/2023 Sabato 28/10/2023
3 Gp Messico F1/2023 Sabato 28/10/2023

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished fourth and fifth respectively in the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix, making it the first weekend of the season where neither of the Ferrari drivers managed to get onto the podium. The cars suffered from a relative lack of pace on the hard compound tyre, which came as a “big surprise”.

From the start of the race, Leclerc and Sainz faced challenges and quickly fell behind, to the tail of the top ten, as George Russell’s Mercedes and even Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas slipped ahead on the opening lap. Luckily, when it came to Lap 9, Leclerc already gained his position back, though Sainz got stuck behind Russell until the Mercedes driver decided to pit.

Then Valtteri Bottas suddenly stopped on the track, suffering mechanical failure, and first causing a Virtual Safety Car, which turned into a full on-track Safety Car.

“We had put both drivers on a two-stop strategy and Charles did a good job of lengthening his stint on the Mediums, but when the Virtual Safety Car was called, we went for a one stop, with the hope of being able to fight for a podium finish,” explained Ferrari’s team principal, Fred Vasseur.

“Unfortunately, Carlos had stopped just before the Safety Car and so he too had to switch to a single stop. This naturally meant he had to be a bit conservative in the final part of the race, but he still brought home the best result that was possible today.”

Carlos Sainz expressed his feeling about Sunday’s race: “It was a bit of a crazy race. What we did at the start cost both Charles and I one or two positions and that cost us a lot in the race.” The Spaniard is referring to a moment between him and his teammate, where he was pushed wide into Turn 2 by understeering Leclerc, who visibly struggled to get some temperature into the tyres.

“Then we tried to follow the Mercedes, we tried to overtake him but he stopped and then we stopped, we put the hard tyres on very early. In the last stint, I had to go very long, but we still managed to hang on for fifth, which I think was the maximum we could do.”

Going into the race weekend at the Shanghai International Circuit, most people were betting on Ferrari to do well. At least on paper, the track should’ve suited them.

“I think as a team we were quite confident that our race pace was very strong,” said Leclerc. “However, we didn’t drive on the hard [during the weekend] until now and once we put the hard on we were slower than what we expected, so that was a big surprise. Especially McLaren were very, very strong on the hard.”

“Having said that, I think we have also been put on the backfoot with the Safety Car, because that put us in the same strategy as everybody and until that moment I was doing a really, really good job with the tyres, and I was very confident that we could do a great race. After that it was much more difficult.”

It’s quite ironic that McLaren was supposed to be the team struggling in China, due to lower speed corners that usually don’t really suit their car. Even Lando Norris, finishing second in the race, admitted he “just wasn’t expecting today at all” and “got everything ready to go home early and not be on the podium”. He revealed a pre-race bet as to how far McLaren would finish behind Ferrari — only to cross the line ten and twenty seconds behind Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

Asked about Norris, Sainz concluded: “I think this weekend they’ve been stronger, as simple as that. I think McLaren, in this kind of circuit, they’ve shown a better pace than us.”

“On top of that, we qualified behind and we got in trouble in the first lap, then there’s no chance we’re going to beat them. We need to do better next time.”

But it wasn’t just about McLaren having better pace — the thing that ultimately sealed a worse result than expected for Ferrari was the mentioned hard compound tyre.

“I don’t think we found it [the pace] as a team, especially on the hard tyres, which is a bit strange because the strength of this car since the beginning of the year is it’s very solid in all conditions with all tyres,” Leclerc said.

“Today is a bit an outlier because as soon as we put on the hards, we were half a second off. So that is very strange. We will look into it and try to understand what went wrong on that run.”

“It’s very strange, especially compared with the McLaren. With Lando at first, I really thought we were going to fight with him,” he added.

“I was doing good tyre management until the safety car that reset it a little bit, all strategies, which is a bit of a shame because I think we were doing a good job and then, on the hard, we were just slow.”

“We were expecting this weekend to be very similar or in line with whatever we’ve seen since the beginning of the season, but we were struggling quite a bit more.”

In conclusion, the team will have to look at how to improve their performance on the these tyres, as well as “review the start because we had a strange line there through Turn 1, Turn 2,” — Sainz continuing on to say this caused the Mercedes and Haas to overtake Charles and him, making them lose a bit of race time.

“We’re not completely satisfied with our result as a team today. We have two things to focus on leaving Shanghai, one is our qualifying trim and the other our pace on the Hards, which was our main challenge today. Our strategy and performance were strong until the Safety Car, but after that we were all on the same strategy and it was a bit more difficult for us to get back to speed on the Hard tyres,” said Leclerc for Ferrari’s official website.

“What will be essential is the upcoming upgrades, as they will define the direction we will take for the next part of the season.”

Fred Vassuer, the team principal, added: “I’m not sure if we could have expected more in terms of finishing higher up the order today given our grid positions. However, I was expecting more in terms of pace than we demonstrated in the race. We now need to understand why that was, especially on the Hards and improve in time for Miami both in qualifying and the race because it’s all very close currently with hundredths of a second making a big difference.”

And Sainz closed it off nicely by saying: “In any case, overall we struggled more than expected and the result today is not what we wanted. We will review everything before going to Miami, where I’m confident we can return to the form we showed in the previous weekends.”

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