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Formula 1

Ferrari in race to find answers after nightmare French GP

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Ferrari is “searching for answers” for the awful tyre degradation that meant a nightmare French Grand Prix ended in its first point-less finish of the 2021 Formula 1 season.

After back-to-back poles in Monaco and Azerbaijan, where the Ferrari’s low-speed prowess allowed it to even outpace Mercedes and Red Bull, the team appeared to validate the all-round strength of its package with a midfield-leading qualifying performance at the high-speed Paul Ricard circuit.

But Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc tumbled down the order on race day, turning fifth and seventh on the grid into 12th and 16th respectively.

Jun 20 : French Grand Prix review

Sainz held on to a low points positions until the final few laps of the grand prix but Leclerc had long since dropped out of contention in “one of the most difficult races” he’s had in F1.

Leclerc’s result was the second-worst finish of his career, better only than 19th in the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix – the third race of his rookie season with Sauber.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the basic cause of a “very bad” and “difficult” grand prix was “we have not been able or capable of making the tyres working as we should have done”.

“Why do we have such a narrow window, why do we struggle more with this front tyre wear compared to our competitors?” :: Carlos Sainz

“Our performance was really strictly linked to the tyres, the way we made them work,” said Binotto.

But it is not immediately clear if Ferrari has an underlying issue to get on top of or if this was a consequence of a unique set of circumstances in France.

Ferrari has struggled with tyre management at other grands prix this season and Sainz admitted there has been a general trend of struggling more in the races than qualifying, which has been “something that’s been in the back of our minds a bit going into every race”.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari Spanish Grand Prix 2021 Barcelona

But he also pointed to the team’s excellent Spanish Grand Prix, at a Barcelona track that stresses tyres greatly, as evidence where race pace has not been an issue.

Sainz’s conclusion is that “we have a very narrow window of working range on our front tyres”, having suggested immediately after the race that Ferrari’s degradation was double that of its rivals in the French GP.

“We tend to struggle a lot more with graining and with front wear than our competitors and probably compared to the whole field,” he said.

“It’s now trying to understand why we have such a narrow window, why do we struggle more with this front tyre wear compared to our competitors?

“I’m sure the whole team will go back tonight to the factory and from tomorrow we will be working extremely hard to try and address it because it’s evident, it’s obvious, you don’t need to be a genius to see that we are clearly struggling.”

Binotto ruled out the increased tyre pressures as the cause of Ferrari’s plight because that impacted the rears and his team’s problem was on the front left.

He suggested that the initial analysis pointed to a negative trait of the Ferrari exacerbated by the circuit, having discovered two years ago on F1’s last visit to the high-speed, high-energy Paul Ricard track that it does not suit its current car concept that well.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari French Grand Prix 2021 Paul Ricard

But worse track conditions on race day may have played a part as well, as Ferrari had been happy with its race simulations in Friday practice but appears to have been caught out by the greener surface caused by heavy Sunday morning rain.

“On Friday, to be honest we didn’t face this issue,” said Sainz. “We were probably inside that narrow window of performance that we have and we look very strong on race pace.

“It’s not an excuse because the others didn’t open graining on the tyres, and we did” :: Carlos Sainz

“Our front wear numbers didn’t look bad, we were actually looking reasonable. That’s why Saturday night we went to bed very confident.

“On the laps to the grid the track was very, very tricky. I actually had a moment as you probably saw on the video, I nearly lost the car in Turn 11. So this already told me that the track was in very, very different conditions.

“It’s not an excuse because the others – with very different conditions, a track one and a half seconds slower compared to Friday – didn’t open graining on the tyres, and we did.

“It means we just have a narrower window of performance and we need to work on our entire understanding to see how we can make this window wider and better.”

The magnitude of Ferrari’s struggles meant Sainz and Leclerc were eventually powerless to halt their slide down the order in the second stint.

Sainz radioed his team in the opening laps to comment on how much worse the degradation was than expected but actually held fifth place until his pitstop, while Leclerc had only just lost seventh place when he made his first stop.

But neither had the pace on the hard tyres to keep ahead of the midfield cars they were racing and both knew early in their stints that it would be difficult to get to the finish.

Leclerc was the first to stop, on just lap 13 of 53, so knew he had a long second stint on the cards and admitted it became “clearer and clearer” he would need to switch to a two-stop strategy after being “quite surprised” how early he started to struggle on the hards.

Sainz said he was just “hoping” that by reaching lap 17 in the first stint on the mediums he would be able to make the hards last to the end, which he did – but at too slow a pace to avoid falling out of the points.

Carlos Sainz Ferrari French Grand Prix 2021

Ferrari only has a few days to investigate its struggles before the next race this weekend, as the French GP kicked off a triple-header.

Two races at Austria’s Red Bull Ring now follow, and Leclerc admitted that after such difficult race pace in France “we are searching for answers”.

“We are going to analyse this and try to use these three days as we have available in the best way we can, try to understand what we can try before the race weekend in Austria, and use the Friday and Saturday as much as we can,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll find something that will help us for the race there.”

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