Charles Leclerc has delivered a cautiously optimistic early assessment of the extensive upgrade package Ferrari has brought to the Spanish Grand Prix.
Following a tough start to the season that has left Ferrari sitting fourth in the Constructors’ Championship with only a solitary podium finish, the Italian outfit has introduced a series of updates to its problematic SF-23 car for this weekend.
The most notable amendment has come in the sidepod region, with Ferrari moving away from the inwash solution it adopted at the start of the current rules cycle last year in order to switch to the downwash concept predominantly seen across the 2023 grid.
Unlike Mercedes last weekend in Monaco, Ferrari elected to wait until the arrival of a conventional track to unveil its new parts, and Leclerc says the signs from Friday in Barcelona felt promising inside the cockpit.
“First of all we had a few new parts on the car, but I think it’s a great track to test these new upgrades,” he expressed.
“The feeling is quite okay, we still have a lot of work to do to optimise the new package, but it felt pretty good.”
While Ferrari has regularly provided a threat to the dominant Red Bulls in qualifying, the Maranello squad has been unable to translate that promising one-lap speed into equally strong showings in race trim.
Both Leclerc and Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz have repeatedly described the battle they have endured attempting to tame an unpredictably behaving car on a Sunday through the early rounds of the year.
With Ferrari’s new developments targeted at improving the consistency of the car as well as extracting more performance, Leclerc adds Ferrari will find out the extent of the improvements further into the weekend.
“I think step by step trying to push more and more the car and to go in places we haven’t yet because we haven’t had the time,” he explained. “[It’s] just the normal process of having a new part and slowly going in the direction we want.”
Despite having claimed the only non-Red Bull pole position of 2023 in Baku, Leclerc asserts that Red Bull appears to be in a “league of their own” this weekend.
With the top 17 cars in FP2 separated by less than a second, the Monegasque driver is positive Ferrari will be in the midst of a tight qualifying fight tomorrow and predicts that grid positions for Sunday’s race will come down to who nails their respective laps.
When asked if he expects to be in the fight for pole position, Leclerc replied: “It’s very difficult to answer that question because it’s closer than ever. Apart from Red Bull that are in a league of their own with their car at the moment, especially in race pace.
“Everybody else seems to be more or less there, so I think the one that will be in front will be the one who does the perfect lap in quali and it’s going to be very close.”