HALF TERM REPORT: Ferrari – Fallen championship aspirations but an intense battle for second place looms
Ferrari came into the 2023 season with championship aspirations following their second place finish last year. Instead they have slipped down the pecking order and currently find themselves in a battle for second. But, is it all doom and gloom? Here's their half term report…
Charles Leclerc — 2nd in Austria
Charles Leclerc has finished on the podium on three occasions this season, but his second place in Austria has been his and Ferrari’s best result so far this year.
The Monegasque narrowly missed out on pole position to Max Verstappen by 0.048s and looked to make up for that by trying to overtake the Red Bull driver at the start of the race, but that was without success.
And after holding off the challenge of team mate Carlos Sainz in the early stages, he settled into second place, before splitting the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez across the line at the Red Bull Ring.
Charles Leclerc 8 – 4 Carlos Sainz
Leclerc has proven to be one of the elite qualifiers on the grid, but even though he bests Sainz in their qualifying head-to-head so far, the Spaniard has more than held his own – as Sainz has a better qualifying average position than Leclerc this year.
But Leclerc is one of two drivers – along with Lewis Hamilton – outside of Red Bull who has achieved pole position this year. He also has four front row starts this year, the second most on the grid behind Verstappen.
Sainz, on the other hand, has started on the front row just once this year – in Miami – but has qualified in the top five at every race this year – with the exception of Montreal and Hungary.
Charles Leclerc: 7 – 5 Carlos Sainz
When it comes to race trim, things are much closer between the pair, although Leclerc still heads Sainz. But, Sainz did start the year stronger by beating Leclerc in five of the first seven races – although Leclerc did retire early in Melbourne and Bahrain.
But at each of the five races before the summer break, Leclerc proved to be the lead Ferrari at the chequered flag, although Sainz did retire early with damage at the Belgian Grand Prix.
As far as podiums go, Leclerc has stood on top of the rostrum on three occasions, while Sainz is yet to achieve a top three finish this year – his fourth place at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix is still standing as his best result of the season.
Ferrari’s best moment this year came on the Friday and Saturday of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend, as Leclerc put in an outstanding performance to take pole position for both Sunday’s race and for the Baku Sprint.
Leclerc entered the weekend having taken back-to-back pole positions in Baku in 2021 and 2022. But he was also coming in having made his worst start to a season as a Ferrari driver – as he had scored just six points from the opening three races to start the year.
However, he showed just how strong he can be when he has the car under him, pushing the limits of the track as looked to compete with the Red Bull drivers, before beating both Verstappen and Perez to pole.
He proved it was not a fluke by returning on Saturday for the Sprint Shootout and beating the Red Bull drivers to pole once again for the 100KM dash. Leclerc’s first time proved to be fast enough, as he collided with the barrier on his final run.
Unfortunately, Leclerc also scores Ferrari’s worst moment of the season, which occurred at the opening race of the year in Bahrain when he pulled over to the side of the road while in third place.
After qualifying third, Leclerc made a fast start, getting ahead of Perez on the run down to Turn 1, to take second. Perez eventually made his way back past in the pacy RB19, but Leclerc had looked set to finish in P3.
However, a power unit issue late on in the event forced him to stop on track, meaning he and Ferrari missed out on a well-earned place on the podium – a year removed from that famous one-two finish for Leclerc and Sainz.
Ferrari will have a couple of goals for the rest of the season, one of those being to beat Mercedes, Aston Martin, and McLaren to second place in the constructors’ championship.
They currently sit fourth in the standings, but with all four teams having fluctuated in performance so far this year, the Scuderia will be looking to find the consistency they have so far lacked, so that they can keep the runners-up tag they earned last year.
As well as that, Ferrari have at times been able to compete with Red Bull over one lap at different tracks, with Leclerc even taking pole in Baku. But is it possible that they could compete with them over race distance and enter the winners circle?
It seems a while ago since the start of the 2022 season when Ferrari nailed these new ground effect regulations. With ten races left in the year, they will hope that they can find that level of performance to somehow break Red Bull's strangle hold on first place.