The Red Bull Ring was the scene of Ferrari’s last Formula 1 victory, some 355 days ago and you’d be brave to bet against that dry patch extending to a full year following the upcoming Austrian and British Grands Prix.
Eight grands prix down in 2023 and Ferrari has a single (grand prix) podium compared to Red Bull’s 12, Aston Martin’s six and Mercedes’ four. It’s a far cry from the early title charge it looked capable of maintaining in early 2022, one that was still a possibility after Charles Leclerc’s victory at the Austrian GP.
At this year’s Austrian GP Ferrari is heading into the weekend hoping its latest upgrade can be a step towards regaining the Red Bull-challenging status that it’s fallen far from in the last year.
It follows a significant upgrade at Barcelona earlier this month that intended to bring a more “consistent” platform for the drivers, something Carlos Sainz hopes will also be achieved by the Austrian GP update.
“There is a big gap between the Red Bull and us. To think we’re going to cut the gap with one upgrade would be naive and not realistic,” Sainz said ahead of the Austrian GP.
“Is the upgrade going to help our weaknesses and hopefully make us come closer [to Red Bull]? Yes, but at the same time if Red Bull brings an upgrade to Austria or anytime soon, it also means that your upgrade is less [of a gain], so it’s all relative in F1.
“I do hope that this upgrade is opening – like we saw in Barcelona – a bit of a new window of development and new opportunities, new ways to set up the car that help us move in the right direction.”
Sainz called the “different” race pace that Ferrari showed on its way to a double top-four finish just behind Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in Montreal “a good boost” for the team but later caveated his optimism when asked by The Race where the improvement had come from.
“I didn’t intend [that initial answer] to sound like it was a genuine gain,” Sainz added.
“I do think it’s also track-related. Why? Because in Canada there was nearly zero deg which helps us, and there’s also no high-speed corners, which helps us.
“We are obviously trying to improve this weakness every race and for sure in Canada we were trying to do steps and here with the package we’re bringing, also trying to improve performance.
“So we might see an improvement and a tendency starting from Canada, but I think still Canada suits us more than Austria.
“But let’s see, it could be different because here in Austria last year we were very competitive. Sometimes in F1 you have certain weekends where the car just works better than others, it’s how it goes sometimes.”
His team-mate Leclerc called the Canadian GP a “positive step in the right direction”, and disagreed with the notion it could be a track-specific one-off but did say it will be “important to confirm the positive feeling of Canada” this weekend.
“The consistency that I got from the car in Canada helped me to push a bit more and to be more at ease with the car,” he said.
“I don’t see any reason why Canada would suit our car better than in a track like here. But again, let’s see.
“The first part of the season was all about trying to understand this car and why we were so inconsistent with the car we would get from track to track.
“So, it’s important that we confirm the step forward that we think we have made with the new parts in Spain.”
Leclerc said he “still feels we have quite a bit of gap” in race pace compared to Red Bull so ending Ferrari’s near-year-long win drought is “not for this weekend”.
The Race also asked Sainz about Ferrari’s win drought, with the Spaniard saying it’s down to Ferrari to stop Red Bull from annihilating the opposition.
“It’s been a long year, for sure,” Sainz reflected.
“From Austria last year to now has been tough. We had a bit of a dip in form towards the end of last year in race pace and we carried that, let’s say, ‘difficult moment’ into this year and we are exactly in the turning point, in the point of where we’re trying to turn things around to make the car competitive again and to try and win again.
“It’s not going to be easy, there’s another team called Red Bull that has killed everyone, the opposition, in a way, no?
“We’re not the only ones suffering it, there’s teams also like Mercedes, that have suffered from their [Red Bull’s] good job.
“Now it’s down to us to revert it and to try our best to win again.”