ANALYSIS: Are the ingredients in place for Ferrari to finally bring title glory back to Maranello?
Ferrari delivered one of the most impressive Formula 1 launches in years, rolling out the SF-23 for a live demo run at their Fiorano track. The 500-strong crowd packed with tifosi, along with Ferrari fans around the world, will hope this red car is the one that brings a first world title in 16 years.
Ferrari aren’t playing it safe with their ambitions for this season. Ferrari senior management drafted in Fred Vasseur in with the sole target of bringing championship glory back to Maranello. Vasseur may have only been in the job a few weeks, but he’s already seen enough to convince him they have all the necessary ingredients to meet those lofty targets.
It speaks volumes for Ferrari’s confidence that they took the brave decision to run the car for the first time during a live broadcast. All manner of things can go wrong on a new car’s first day – but Ferrari didn’t let that put them off.
Charles Leclerc won the coin toss to earn the right to drive it first and he headed out on track and completed a couple of laps without any trouble. His early feedback was very positive – and the feeling inside the team is that they have delivered a race car that is not only a step forward in terms of pure pace but also tougher when it comes to last season’s Achilles heel: reliability.
Leclerc suffered the pain of seeing potential wins in Spain and Azerbaijan slip through his fingers while out in the lead courtesy of power unit issues. There were other failures, too, including Carlos Sainz’s fiery exit in Austria when Ferrari were set for a one-two.
This has been one of the biggest – if not the biggest – focus for Ferrari, because get this right and the gains are huge. They had to run the engine at a lower power level for nearly two-thirds of last season while they worked on strengthening what they knew could be a very powerful unit.
That work – permitted because it is for reliability issues – was completed successfully over the winter, with the team hopeful they have a more robust power unit that should be able to run at maximum power. Sources say that this could yield as much as 0.2-0.3s per lap.
The car itself looks svelte and features a new nose, front wing and front suspension, as well as a plethora of tweaks that can’t be seen underneath the hood.
As it’s an evolution of last year’s F1-75, the bare minimum the team should be for the team to figure consistently in the top three. If the engine gains play out, and the aero tweaks deliver lap time benefit, too, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be in contention to repeat the feat of winning the first race of the season.
The challenge beyond that will be to not only maintain the reliability but also deliver a consistent stream of developments to the car across the season. Last year, the car changed very little in the final two-thirds of the campaign – the team having already committed resources elsewhere. As a result, they fell away from Red Bull and into the clutches of Mercedes.
Changes are also required in terms of operations, particularly when it comes to strategy. Vasseur says that it’s more likely to be a case of changing processes rather than personnel, but his evaluation of the situation will continue into the season so he can see first-hand how the team goes about a race weekend.
Get those things right and then it’s down to the drivers to deliver. Leclerc proved last year that he’s fearsome over one lap, taking a class-leading 10 pole positions over the course of the season. He’ll want to finetune things for races – but otherwise, there’s no reason why he can’t compete consistently for the title once more.
His team mate Carlos Sainz, who had a run later in the day on Tuesday to complete the team’s permitted 15km on a demonstration day, had more of an inconsistent season that peaked with his first win at Silverstone and eight other podiums but was sprinkled otherwise with misfortune, unreliability and the odd mistake.
The Spaniard has had a strong winter, feels like he knows where he can improve versus last season and is more confident he can hit the ground running with this year’s car. Do that and he’s proved time and time again that he can string together a relentless run of results that would very much put him in contention.
Both drivers will have equal opportunity until the point it makes sense for the team to back one over the other. Deliver to their potentials and at the very least the constructors’ championship must be a genuine target providing the car is good.
Netting that should mean that one of either Sainz or Leclerc, if not both, will be in contention for a first drivers’ title for Ferrari since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed in 2007. Do that and the tifosi across Italy will erupt.