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ANALYSIS: Ferrari are fully focused on 2024 – but it’s impossible to avoid talking about Lewis Hamilton

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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Ferrari became the latest team to launch their 2024 challenger, with a digital event on Wednesday, and the Scuderia did a decent job of trying to strike the right balance. They wanted to keep the focus on the season ahead, but were also fielding questions for the first time about the impending arrival of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and the subsequent departure of Carlos Sainz at the end of the year.

Let’s address the upcoming season first – as Ferrari tried to valiantly to do. When it comes to 2024 the goal with this year’s Ferrari is simple. Deliver a forgiving machine that brings more consistency and greater driveability for Charles Leclerc and Sainz so they can reach the limit without fear of the car snapping out of control. That in turn will secure better results on a more frequent basis.

READ MORE: Leclerc offers reaction to Hamilton being signed by Ferrari as his new team mate

“Last year the main issue that we had probably on the operation was that we missed too many opportunities, and on the performance we were – from my point of view – quite inconsistent,” said Team Principal Fred Vasseur.

“We were quick in the last part of the season but the drivability of the car was an issue. From the beginning of the 2024 project we were focused on this. Our feeling is that we did a decent step forward in terms of drivability, but only Bahrain will let us know if it is enough or not.”

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Ferrari have unveiled their 2024 challenger, the SF-24

In a bid to achieve those targets, Technical Director for the chassis Enrico Cardile says “every area of the car has been redesigned” and built on a “completely new platform”. One area where they – and all their rivals – struggled relative to Red Bull was focused around the rear wing. Cardile says the team have changed their philosophy here in a bid to boost their straight-line speed and make them more potent.

Ferrari managed one victory last season – through Sainz in Singapore – and were the only squad other than Red Bull to pop the champagne on the top step. The ambition to boost that haul this year, catch Red Bull and be frontrunners more consistently, with Vasseur saying if they can boost the win count, “we will be in much better shape in the championship”.

TECH ANALYSIS: What’s new on Ferrari’s SF-24 with the 2024 challenger ‘a big departure’ from its predecessor

This is Vasseur’s second season in the job. He told me the last 12 months have helped to significantly build his knowledge base of how the team operates – and he has confidence that the people at Maranello can make steps to become a more efficient and successful operation.

So, while there are people joining from rival teams – and more on the way – he doesn’t envisage big changes regarding organisation on track. “We won’t have a big change,” he said. “Small adaptions, and touch by touch, we are going in the right direction.”

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Fred Vasseur on 'good winter' and keeping positive momentum into the 2024 season

'I think Lewis will be for sure a performance contributor'

Now, let’s talk drivers. Ferrari were keen to get their line-up for 2025 nailed early because, as Vasseur said, the team “didn’t want to have the distraction during the season”. However, by changing their line-up and pulling off the biggest driver signing in a generation by luring Hamilton away from Mercedes, where he won six of his seven world championships, it will be impossible to avoid talking about such a move this year.

Ferrari have pulled off a major coup this winter. They’ve re-signed one of the highly-rated drivers on the grid in Leclerc, after years of trying they’ve convinced Hamilton to sign on the dotted line, and they’ve redesigned every area of their car in a bid to take another step this year and edge closer to become a world championship-contending team this year.

FIRST LOOK: Ferrari unveil new SF-24 car ahead of the 2024 season

When Ferrari announced Hamilton’s arrival, the press statement ran to just 20 words, with no quotes from anybody. So, when I had the chance to talk to Vasseur at the launch, I asked why Hamilton is such a prized asset for Ferrari. “If you look at last year’s championship, he scored more than 50 points more than [team mate George] Russell.

“He will come with his experience, seven championships, 20 years with top teams in F1 and with a level of excellence. It is good to have someone coming from the outside, a mix of culture, with a different approach. We have to be very open-minded and be able to learn from every situation. I think Lewis will be for sure a performance contributor.”

LUSAIL, QATAR - OCTOBER 7: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes AMG walks in the paddock

Lewis Hamilton will be moving to Ferrari for the 2025 season

He later added during a media call: “It’s a huge opportunity for the team. We are sure that he will bring us a decent step for the future and it will be a good challenge for everybody, but we want to be focused on 2024 and we don’t want to have any kind of distraction. It’s also why we made the announcement so early, because it was important for us to be focused on 2024 for all of the season.”

If anything, having the news out that Hamilton onboard for 2025 is a benefit rather than a distraction to the Scuderia, as it shows the sharpness of Ferrari’s intent to get back to winning ways. They’ve done the hard bit – convincing the greatest driver of his generation to come to their team.

Now they can let everyone talk about it – and get excited about it – while they put their heads down and work on the 2024 car. Their efforts to do everything it takes to win can’t be criticised.

‘Not the best feeling’ – Sainz sets out clear 2024 target with Hamilton poised to replace him at Ferrari

'I wasn’t surprised'

For Leclerc, he says he was aware such a move for Hamilton was coming, and you could argue this pairing is a win-win for him. Beat Hamilton and he’ll be remembered for getting the better of a seven-time world champion who is still operating at a high level. Get edged out – and there can be no shame in that as Leclerc continues to develop, with a decade or more ahead of him on the grid if he keeps improving.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Leclerc of the news. “Obviously these deals are not discussed overnight. Before I signed my contract, I was aware there were talks and the possibility of having Lewis as a team mate.

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Leclerc: 'Lewis is such an incredible driver'

“I don’t want to go too much into detail apart from obviously it’s going to be a great opportunity for the team, he’s such an incredible driver, a great person as well – we have a great relationship.

“Out of respect of Carlos, I don’t want to go too much into detail. We have had great years together and there's still one more we have to do together. There is no doubt Carlos and myself will do everything to bring Ferrari back to the top.”

Sainz handled the whole situation as you’d expect he would – with grace, dignity and pragmatism.

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“First of all feel very privileged to be part of Ferrari and still having a year ahead, that will be a total of four years as a Scuderia Ferrari driver, and I think once you’re a Ferrari driver you can go to every team from now on having been at Ferrari and having been a Ferrari driver – I think it does good for any driver on the grid,” he said.

“On top of that, if you add the fact that I’ve won races for Ferrari, I’ve made pole positions, I’ve got podiums, I think I have helped this team to move forward up the grid and to be a better team, then my overall feeling of these four years is definitely positive. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me as I’m sure there’s going to be good things coming.”

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Carlos Sainz on 'surprise' of Hamilton news but ultimate focus for the 2024 season

He added: “Obviously a new year, new opportunity, hopefully a better car, a more performing car that allows us to – especially in the races – shine a bit more than we did last year. Because definitely last year in the races we were struggling a bit more than in quali, and with a better race car we can do some better races, some better strategy, some better tire management, some better overtakes – because last year I was having to defending a lot my position and I did a lot of good defending but not enough good overtaking. So I’m looking forward to that and what we can extract from the car this year.”

In Sainz, Ferrari have a driver who will give it everything until the very last race while in Leclerc, they have a racer who will want to send a signal to Hamilton of what a potent force he will be when they line up as team mates next year.

That is a powerful combination – and should Ferrari have made a step in the right direction, as the numbers back at Maranello suggest they have, there’s a good chance Ferrari can take the fight to Red Bull and make a fight of it in the championship. And that is only a good thing, whether you’re Ferrari, Sainz, Leclerc, Hamilton or indeed the neutral fan.

READ MORE: The 2025 driver market is wide open – Where does that leave Gasly and Ocon at Alpine?

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