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Formula 1

Ferrari's upgrade verdict makes this letdown more puzzling

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Ben Anderson, Edd Straw
5 min read

Considering it had a deficit of over three tenths to the lead McLaren and lead Red Bull, and its drivers were just 0.005s apart, the Ferrari is either Formula 1's fourth-quickest car at Barcelona or, at the very best, a marginal third.

This is worse than it would've been expected to go at the Spanish Grand Prix on the overall trend of the season. But, given it introduced a major upgrade at Barcelona, that at least offers a clear potential reason. Surely the new version of the SF-24 is coming up short somewhere, either through miscorrelation or just not being fully optimised?

Well, no. Not according to Charles Leclerc, anyway.

Leclerc dug his weekend out from a sketchy place after "a very difficult time" on Friday - and was lucky to escape penalty for a major FP3 indiscretion. But though he was "a bit late getting into the rhythm", he felt he was in that rhythm come qualifying - the laptime just didn't come.

"The pace is just not there," he remarked, bluntly. "I am happy in a way with the progress, of the feeling I had from yesterday to today, which I think will pay off in the race. I am not happy - and I am disappointed - with the pace of the car today in qualifying, because we are further away than what we had anticipated."

But the upgrade, encompassing a new high-downforce rear wing and beam wing set-up plus changes to the sidepods and floor? That's working, he claimed.

"The upgrade that we brought is doing what it's supposed to do. It's a good step forward," Leclerc insisted.

"There's more optimisation with this new package that we can do - but I wouldn't take that as an excuse. I think we are just lacking a little bit of pace this weekend.

"It felt good [to drive].

"What I can say is that this upgrade was a performance upgrade and not a driveability [ride quality] upgrade. So... what we've seen is bringing performance to the car, for sure, 100%. And we are seeing the numbers that we expected."

Leclerc acknowledged it's "always a relative sport", but didn't seem to put much stock in the idea that perhaps the likes of McLaren and Mercedes have simply been even more aggressive with their developments.

That conclusion would, logically, be quite irritating for Ferrari, considering it's already accelerated things in its pipeline as a response to the 2024 championship circumstances. So if this is the accelerated plan and the upgrades are not coming out undercooked, where would it have been under the original plan?

"If you look at the gap between McLaren and Mercedes, it's more or less what you would expect from the last three races," Leclerc argued.

"So I think it's more us, that we didn't perform the way we should've this weekend.

"But there's definitely a clear trend, that McLaren is getting better and better, especially on a track like this - which is normally reputed to be a track that is quite representative of the performance of the cars throughout the whole season. So we've got to work on that."

But is the track really representative?

Like Leclerc, Carlos Sainz was "disappointed", having expected to be in the fight for pole position at his home track.

The realisation that Red Bull and McLaren are "a bit out of reach" came in Q2, Sainz said, as practice hadn't suggested that was the case.

But he at least had a clear vision for why Barcelona might be exposing the SF-24.

"We've been struggling all weekend with the high-speed corners, we still have this bouncing phenomenon that gives us a very tough time," he said.

"Probably this is also killing the tyre for the third sector."

"I don't know," he added with a sigh. "Still third year of this and still fighting this porpoising in high-speed corners when you put lateral load in the car.

"It's been tough all weekend to try and get rid of it and still we haven't managed to get rid of it - and we come to this track and you can see McLaren and Red Bull have zero bouncing and I think they're doing a good job."

The upgrade won't have tackled this, as per Leclerc's admission above.

And it's logical that this downside would be exacerbated in qualifying, too, when everything is run at its peak and the loads - over which Ferrari presumably doesn't have the same control when running close to the ground in those long, speedy corners as some of its rivals do - are higher than at any point in the weekend. Especially as the track temperature had dipped, providing better grip.

With Sainz acknowledging this trait of the SF-24 was already being punished at Suzuka and Shanghai - and with Barcelona having shed its final-sector chicane that would've brought the layout balance more towards Ferrari here - perhaps a qualifying defeat here shouldn't be massively alarming. And on Sunday it should still be reasonably competitive.

The size of the single-lap deficit, though, is a different matter.

"We can sit here and argue three hundredths more, we'd be P3," said Sainz. "But the reality is I'm looking more at the gap to Lando than the gap to the Mercedes - because three and a half tenths is a lot of laptime around Barcelona."

Ferrari would've maybe accepted it last year - it was four and a half tenths off then - but over a 70-odd-second lap, when you're supposed to be in the fight, it is clearly not good enough.

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