Charles Leclerc spared Ferrari’s blushes by pulling the disappointing SF1000 from seventh to an unlikely second place at the Austrian Grand Prix last weekend.
It was a stunning drive from the Monaco man. His pace and determination late on once again confirmed just how impressive he can be in pressure situations.
It was a champion’s drive for the man effectively anointed as the Scuderia’s best hope of winning a first world title since 2007.
However, for all the praise, the SF1000 is far from podium material.
Austria will simply be a weekend the Prancing Horse will want to forget, spending much of it battling against the Racing Points and McLarens, rather than the Mercedes and Red Bulls.
Expectations in the Ferrari camp were not high heading into the season-opener and those fears were realised when Leclerc and Vettel placed a disastrous P7 and P11 respectively in qualifying.
They were just the fifth-fastest team in qualifying and the car was nearly a full second slower than they had been around Austria last year, when Leclerc clinched pole position.
The Scuderia were Mercedes’ main challengers last season, with their prime asset being qualifying speed and engine power. They secured nine pole positions out of 21.
Now, they seem to have slipped further behind the Silver Arrow.
There is no magic formula to fix quick problems in F1 and Ferrari must use these next few races to monitor various adjustments and upgrades accurately.
Leclerc admitted the car was better through corners but had some drag. Vettel, meanwhile, said the car lacked grip and downforce down the straights.
The issue, however, is not only with the car’s aerodynamics. Team boss Mattia Binotto insisted after the race that they were losing “0.3secs in cornering and 0.7secs power-limited on the straights”.
To hone in even further, the car was nearly a full second a lap off the pace in Austria, one of the shortest laps on the calendar, and could have been worse if not for the safety cars.
The Italian marquee endured a poor pre-season testing, which prompted a rethink of the SF1000 car. Significant changes were made and were supposed to be ready for the Austria double-header.
However, the final tweaks weren’t completed in time, and Sunday’s car was effectively the same from the final days of testing in Barcelona.
Leclerc appeared to have no hope of a podium after his qualifying disaster, where he barely made it through to Q3. He qualified seventh, just under a second behind Bottas (0.987 secs).
However, running sixth for most of the race, he moved up to second in the closing laps as a result of retirements in front of him and two clinical overtakes on Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez.
He did profit from Lewis Hamilton’s five-second penalty, but second place – a full 52 seconds behind winner Bottas – was thoroughly deserved after a combative display.
He later described it as one of the best drives of his career.
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel finished 10th, after a spin while attempting an over-optimistic lunge on Sainz. He lost the rear a couples of times and said he had difficulty with the overall balance of the car.
For a man leaving Ferrari at the end of the season, and potentially retiring from the sport, it must be difficult to find motivation at present, especially in an under-performing machine.
Having seen the clear lack of pace, Ferrari are bringing forward some planned upgrades to their car following a disappointing showing in Austria.
The car changes may not be enough to reel in the near one-second deficit to Mercedes, but will help the drivers to be more competitive around the Red Bull Ring.
Key to the upgrades will be the introduction of an aerodynamic package, but that will assist more with stability and cornering rather than straight-line speed.
If straight speed does not improve, the car will be even further behind on tracks like Spa, the longest on the calendar, and where straight-line speed has a significant influence on overall lap time.
Rapid results cannot be expected straight away. However, the progress in terms of lap times could allow both Leclerc and Vettel to move up the order and showcase their talents this weekend.
Aggressive and successful development will be central, along with the task of trying to reel in a dominant Mercedes team.
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