Ferrari Team Principal Fred Vasseur has stated it is too early to suggest the changes made to parts of Charles Leclerc’s engine ahead of Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix were ultimately responsible for his retirement from the race.
Leclerc was running in a comfortable third place behind the dominant Red Bull duo on Lap 39 when he ground to a halt on the exit of Turn 13.
The failure was swiftly identified as a complete shutdown of the engine.
Ferrari had elected to change the Control Electronics and Energy Store on Leclerc’s SF-23 car as a precautionary measure on the eve of the race.
Vasseur, however, has refused to be drawn on whether the replacement parts were wholly responsible for Leclerc’s early exit.
“Well, honestly, we don’t know yet what’s happened exactly. That’s been an issue this morning and we changed the part,” he underlined.
“We don’t know where it’s coming from, and we have the investigation soon. But it’s too early stage to give you a better answer.”
With the introduction of a freeze on engine performance improvements at the start of last year, many power unit manufacturers – including Ferrari – pushed the boundaries on performance.
But with fixes to reliability permitted, the Italian squad outwardly expressed that a rigorous focus had gone into improving the durability of its power unit for 2023.
Vasseur has since highlighted that runs on the dyno back at its Maranello base during the winter and three days of pre-season testing didn’t hint at any power unit concerns.
“We never expected to have something like this,” Vasseur said. “Cause the first time that we had it and we didn’t face the same issue at all during the 6000-7000km that we did with the engine in the last week with the three teams and didn’t develop the same issue on the dyno.
“But again, that we need to do a full investigation before to be able to give you an answer.”
Although Ferrari had the speed to fight Red Bull over one lap for pole position, the SF-23 was no match for the devastating pace of its counterpart’s RB19 in the race.
While Ferrari led the way in both championships early last season, terminal reliability problems were recognised as the beginning of the end for its title aspirations in 2022.
After already suffering an issue, Vasseur has demanded that attention is made to ensure repeat failures don’t occur in Ferrari’s pursuit of closing down Red Bull.
“For sure it’s a shame not to finish the first one but before we draw any conclusion, we need to understand exactly what happened,” the Ferrari boss reiterated.
“Overall I would say that the picture is not the one expected before the race.
“To summarise the situation I would say on quali pace, we are there, we are matching Red Bull at the test in Bahrain, it was a positive point, but now that we have to be fully realistic, if we want to improve, we need to have a clear picture of the situation and unreliability is not [a variable] that we need,” he conceded.
Following Leclerc’s retirement, Ferrari sits down in fourth in the Constructors’ standings – already 31 points behind Red Bull at the top.
With the drivers only being allocated two Energy Stores and two Control Electronics for the season, Leclerc is likely already facing the prospect of a grid penalty later in the year.