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Formula 1

What's significant about a cryptic Ferrari/Leclerc change

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Charles Leclerc hopes that he will be at “100% already” with his new race engineer immediately, starting at Formula 1’s Imola race this weekend, because “everything makes a difference at the front”.

Ferrari announced in between the Miami and Emilia Romagna Grands Prix that long-time race engineer Xavi Marcos, who has been the voice in Leclerc’s ear for his entire Ferrari career, will be replaced by Bryan Bozzi effective immediately.

The short statements offered no further insight beyond claiming Marcos “will bring his valuable experience gained as a race engineer with the Formula 1 team to the development of other important company programmes”.

Having heard from one of the parties - Leclerc - at Imola on Thursday, what’s still unclear is what the exact motivation for the change was, why it was considered necessary, and what conversations have preceded this.

“Obviously it's very tight in front and everything makes a difference,” said Leclerc when asked about the unusual nature of a mid-season race engineer change.

“However, the decision was made between the team and Xavi. They had other plans in mind, I guess.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, F1

Leclerc said the decision was communicated to him “right after Miami”. And unless this is vastly underestimating Leclerc's station, it's unlikely he was a key instigator.

Team principal Fred Vasseur is leading a small revolution in culture and making whatever changes are deemed necessary - which this has been deemed to be.

Either it has been independently decided that both Leclerc and Ferrari will benefit from this, or it’s possible Leclerc has raised it as an issue at some point.

It is surely not just a completely independent decision on the ‘team’ side as, even though organisation changes are outside his remit, a driver of Leclerc’s quality and respect within Ferrari must have a say in the matter given it is such a critical part of his own comfort and performance.

Charles Leclerc and Fred Vasseur, Ferrari, F1

Leclerc seems to at least be accepting of the change, so perhaps sees its merits. He didn't have the same air of ‘I didn’t expect this and I don’t agree with this’ that, for example, Valtteri Bottas had with his own race engineer change ahead of the previous race in Miami.

All Ferrari stresses is that this change has been made for organisational reasons, and in the context of communication issues in the past an inevitable conclusion is that Bozzi is seen as an upgrade in terms of the information flow between Ferrari and its driver.

Vasseur’s been gentle for the most part with what changes he's made where staff members are concerned. There was an initial restructuring of some of the senior pitwall/garage responsibilities on his arrival but Vasseur’s preferred to give people the benefit of the doubt, and look to improve the processes rather than blame individuals for errors.

There have been clear operational improvements under his leadership, but radio communication has long since been a tricky issue.

It can never be perfect, such is F1’s nature, but Ferrari’s caused problems for its own drivers on several occasions by failing to feed in the right information at the right time - for example last year’s Monaco GP, where Leclerc copped a grid penalty for a completely avoidable case of impeding caused entirely by his team.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, F1

Leclerc seemed to downplay the communication factor, though, when asked about it by The Race: “Communication has always been a big thing since we worked with Xavi.

“But we always try and communicate as much as possible; this is the way I work, to try and have the best picture overall.

“We’ll focus on having the smoothest transition possible, and then we'll focus on the things that matter to us.

“But I don't think it was a particular problem.”

It remains a slightly secretive change, perhaps unnecessarily so if there is a simple answer - that this is just seen as a pure upgrade. Ferrari may just be trying to be polite and respectful to Marcos, likewise Leclerc to someone he clearly had a good relationship with and enjoyed success with.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, F1

Whatever the true reason for this, and what it may or may not be aimed at improving, the priority is ensuring there is no unintended negative consequence.

That will surely be aided by the fact Bozzi was Leclerc’s performance engineer at Ferrari, which not only means he is familiar with Leclerc and his way of working but they will also have had radio communication of their own.

“Bryan is a person I have been working with since I arrived in Ferrari, he's always been my performance engineer, so he knows exactly how everything works,” said Leclerc.

“It's not that I'm starting from zero and that it's going to be a complete adaptation.

“It's been super smooth until now and I'm sure that it will continue that way, and that we will be at our 100% already this weekend.

“That's all I can say.”

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