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Ferrari’s Fight: A Deep Dive with Sainz



Sainz Ferrari F1 team

From an uplifting winter resurgence to a harsh spring reality check, Ferrari’s journey in the 2023 Formula 1 season is a tale of unexpected trials and tribulations. Amidst a field altered by Red Bull’s ascendancy and Aston Martin’s breakthrough, Ferrari finds itself fighting for position and relevance, threatening to upset its bid for a grand comeback. Here’s an inside look into the tumultuous journey and the determination that underpins their resolve for redemption.

The initial signs of resounding hope following the winter turned out to be deceptive as Ferrari was compelled to recalibrate early in the 2023 Formula 1 season.

There was a discernible atmosphere of assurance in Fiorano, during the lead-up and subsequent launch of the SF-23. Ferrari believed it had utilized the winter effectively, a crucial period that it hoped would facilitate its continuation of successful performances from 2022 and provide the momentum for a comprehensive title contention.

However, when the car actually took to the track, flaws surfaced, Red Bull altered the landscape of competition, and Aston Martin shattered the formerly held belief that middle-tier teams could not achieve substantial advancements in a single off-season. Suddenly, Ferrari found itself not only playing second fiddle once more but also potentially in the third or fourth position, far off its target.

Carlos Sainz, the Ferrari driver, expressed to F1Lead that “This year has been more challenging than any previous year.”

“There was a sense that…Ferrari finally made a comeback to the top in 2022. And we all anticipated that we’d be competing at a similar level, at the very least.”

“Not just me, the entire team harbored this hope, this anticipation. And to suddenly find yourself lagging more than half a second behind the Red Bull was a hard pill to swallow.


“There’s a need to recalibrate, to revisit the initial plans, and to ensure the team stays motivated.

“Presently, there’s a massive surge of effort in Maranello related to the development plan. Aligning and motivating the entire factory towards the next step is proving to be the toughest part.”

Sainz says that the new team principal of Ferrari, Fred Vasseur, is managing these challenges adeptly. Vasseur’s entry into what is already an exceptionally challenging F1 role has been nothing short of an ordeal. The departure of several key senior figures, combined with on-track performances that fell short of expectations, has rendered his task even more daunting.

Let’s turn our attention to the car now. Ferrari chose to sacrifice some of its cornering performance for improved straight-line speed, following a notable shortfall in that area in the previous year.

The decision had partial success. The straight-line speed showed notable improvement. However, the car is quite challenging to handle. Compare this with Red Bull, whose car design boasts a harmonious balance between a robust mechanical setup and a well-understood aerodynamic performance. This combination has resulted in the RB19 being quick around corners and a force to reckon with on the straights.

Sainz Ferrari F1 team

“The SF-23 isn’t an easy car to manage,” admits Sainz. “Currently, we’re grappling with an unpredictable car that is quite finicky, making it extremely challenging to maintain consistent lap times during qualifications, maintain race pace, adapt to changing conditions, handle tire wear, and account for wind. These aspects are highly unpredictable and difficult to adjust to.

“Setting that aside as a driver, I feel like I have grasped how I need to drive this generation of cars, how I want to tune the car according to my preferences, or at least how I want to adjust this generation of cars to my liking. This understanding reduces the number of variables I have to consider when going into a race weekend.


“The start hasn’t been smooth, as I’ve mentioned, but I feel that even though the car might be more challenging than last year, I have a better understanding of these complexities. I’m now able to setup and drive the car in a manner that suits me.”

The peculiarities of the Ferrari have had different impacts on its two drivers. For instance, in Azerbaijan, Sainz had a distinctly subpar weekend, while Leclerc excelled with a pole position and a spot on the podium. Leclerc’s bold, risk-embracing driving style can coax a surprisingly quick lap time out of this car when conditions align with its narrow operational window. However, when they don’t, Leclerc can face difficulties and even crashes, as seen in the qualifiers and the race in Miami. Meanwhile, Sainz experienced a much more controlled weekend there.

Both Sainz and Leclerc have had a far from ideal start to the season. While Leclerc has seen higher peaks, Sainz has exhibited more consistent performance. Nonetheless, both drivers, who entered the season with championship aspirations, are currently in lackluster positions in the championship race—Sainz is in fifth place with 44 points, and Leclerc is seventh with 34 points.

Ferrari, on the other hand, stands only fourth in the constructors’ championship, trailing Aston Martin and Mercedes and already a significant 146 points behind Red Bull.

Sainz Ferrari F1 team

“The pain isn’t so much from being fourth in the constructors’ race or fifth or sixth among the drivers,” asserts Sainz. “The real disappointment is the gap to Red Bull.

“If we were now ranked fourth in the constructors’ but knew we had a shot at pole position and a race win every weekend, that would be easier to accept.

“It’s the surprising speed of the Red Bull this year that has caught us off guard. Not only us—I think neither Mercedes nor Aston Martin expected the gap they’re currently experiencing.”


Unsurprisingly, the primary focus is on car development. An updated floor and diffuser were seen in Miami, additional new components were anticipated for the now-cancelled Imola race, and more are expected in Spain at the beginning of June. However, two questions loom: How significantly will the fundamental car design transform? And will it suffice?

There are suggestions that Ferrari, along with Mercedes, must accept that their original car concepts—carried forward from 2022—simply do not offer a high enough performance ceiling to compete with Red Bull’s approach. Sainz has been vocal for weeks about Ferrari’s need for a substantial change.

“It’s fair to say that Red Bull has reached a performance level that’s tough to match merely by evolving our car,” he comments.

“They have a broader, more profound conceptual something that all of us lack.”

“But after the initial few races, we’ve also pinpointed significant weaknesses in our package, even when compared to last year. And it’s this combination of factors that we’re now focusing on heavily.

“That’s why I remain quite composed about it, because I believe we’ve identified the shortcomings from last year and we have a sense of the direction we need to take for development.”

Sainz believes Ferrari has effectively utilized the start of the season to understand its weaknesses, and that the remainder of the year presents a crucial opportunity to recover from the disappointing initial races.

Sainz Ferrari F1 team

Whether this will be enough to transform Ferrari into a definitive race winner this year is hard to ascertain. At this juncture, it probably depends on Red Bull either making a significant mistake or halting its progress so prematurely that other teams continuing their development can catch up.

Regardless of the outcomes achievable this year, Sainz insists they cannot be “dismissed.” He refers to this year as an “important year for development” as it will establish the foundation for the upcoming year.

Both Sainz and Leclerc are contracted until the end of the 2024 season. Since their unification in 2021, they have been a beneficial duo for Ferrari, and it would likely be in Ferrari’s interest to maintain this continuity. After all, as of now, the team is not limited by its drivers.

Leclerc has been associated with a potential move away, as Ferrari continues to fall short of providing him a competitive car to vie for a world championship. Meanwhile, the team experiences internal changes, with key personnel like Laurent Mekies and David Sanchez transitioning to other teams.

Though Sainz often goes unnoticed in this respect, there’s already speculation about Audi showing interest in him for 2026. The German manufacturer’s team project with Sauber will be led by Andreas Seidl, a familiar face to Sainz from their shared stint at McLaren, which initially brought him to Ferrari’s attention.

What the long-term future holds remains uncertain. However, when it comes to the short-term – which likely includes Sainz’s next contract (for 2025 and beyond) – it would seem imprudent to suggest that he might be enticed to leave Ferrari, even amidst the team’s challenging phase.

“I’m aware that there are still two very crucial years ahead of us,” he says. “And it would be foolish to discuss anything beyond that at this point.”

“But I believe I’ve yet to fully realize my potential as a driver. And I feel that, at the very least, I’ve made another significant stride in the right direction here.


“As for my immediate future, I see it exclusively with Ferrari and with the aspiration to achieve success with this team. Nothing would bring me greater joy than to secure another victory with Ferrari, and to mount a title challenge with them.

“Whether you win or not, it’s about the fight for the championship. You can either come out on top or not. But it’s this challenge that really motivates me in the short and medium term.

“I feel truly at home with the team. The atmosphere is positive. Despite the surrounding chatter, I personally observe the factory, and everyone seems to be in a good place right now.”

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