until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Trackside view: What makes the Ferrari look so formidable

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

Two trips trackside on the final day of Formula 1 pre-season testing cemented the view that Red Bull starts the season with an advantage but another team left its own emphatic impression.

The Ferrari passes the eye test with flying colours. In the day, and in the final hour in cooler evening conditions, it has a poise about it that explains why drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have been so enthused about this test compared to 12 months ago.

Watching trackside from the outside of Turn 10 lets you see the cars enter through Turn 9 as well, so you get a full view of the one-two punch of awkward left-handers – and how the cars deal with that.

Turns 9 and 10 here are a really quite horrible couple of corners, which makes it good to judge a car on the limit. The car arrives at Turn 9 at speed and needs to scrub that off while turning to get the car slowed down and turned in for the Turn 10 left-hander.

It’s an on-edge combination of steering and braking lock, and exacerbated further by the fact the track falls away at a surprising gradient, so the inside front also goes a bit light.

The Ferrari handled all of this with aplomb in different conditions, with different tyres and different drivers behind the wheel.

It rarely looked like it was anywhere its driver didn’t want it to be – a Sainz lock-up was the only notable issue, with a late Leclerc long run particularly impressive. One minor apex slip conveyed an impression the front might be weakening but this proved a mirage as next time by (and in subsequent laps) it was back kissing the apex kerb again.

The Ferrari impressed elsewhere, too. It caught the eye of Edd Straw and Gary Anderson when they were trackside at Turn 11 – a very different, long, medium-speed corner after a high-speed approach from the back straight. From day one it looked consistent, turned in nicely and didn’t pick up understeer through the corner.

It looked planted, and very tidy, making it a car that does what the drivers want and need it to do. That is quite a departure from its worst days of 2023, and even what they experienced here last year.

While it still feels like a big ask for Ferrari to really challenge Red Bull in the season opener, it looks like best of the rest. For most of this test we were agonising over who would emerge in that role as it looked like a group of Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin.

But then Ferrari moved to the fore and none of the other teams really moved with it. They certainly do not leave the same impact trackside.

The Mercedes has its moments, and George Russell’s late push lap was eye-catching, but it looked like harder work to get it to that stage. On a long run the Aston Martin didn’t look quite as strong as a late long run progressed compared to Ferrari or even McLaren – which looks weaker over a stint than it does over a single lap.

It all comes back to the Ferrari looking like a nice step from last year having achieved a more stable platform. The drivers are happier, and trackside you can see why.

Is it enough to fight, let alone beat, Red Bull? Maybe, (probably) not. With how it looked under the lights late on day three, though, the Ferrari does trigger a sense of optimism.

And while it might be the hope that kills you, it's better to have some hope than none.

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