Charles Leclerc says Ferrari’s persistent struggles with getting the tyres working in race trim continued at the Spanish Grand Prix despite bringing upgrades aimed at addressing the problem.
Amid a hugely disappointing start to the season, Ferrari introduced a series of updates to its problematic SF-23 car in a bid to improve its race pace and consistency.
However, Leclerc was eliminated from Q1 in qualifying for the first time since May 2019 on Saturday after complaining that something was amiss at the rear of his car.
Despite Ferrari withdrawing his car from the starting grid in order to replace the rear end, the Monegasque driver was unable to breach the points running a contra-strategy, crossing the line in 11th position once a penalty was applied against Yuki Tsunoda.
While Leclerc claims the new parts produced the anticipated results, he asserts he was still hampered by the same unpredictability with the tyres as in previous races.
“Today in terms of balance the car was alright, but the performance was not at all consistent,” he said. “We ran the hards twice, but with the first set I struggled a lot, while with the second one it was reasonably good and I was catching Pierre (Gasly) towards the end.
“We really must analyse all the data, because while the upgrades seem to work as expected, we are always slightly caught out by what is happening with the tyres and we struggle to get them in the right window which is a big problem.
“We ran the same tyre twice in the same race and we went from having a very bad car to quite a good one towards the end of the race.
“Now we will go back to the factory and find out what went wrong yesterday in qualifying because that’s what put us in a tricky situation today. There’s a lot of work to do.”
Ferrari concluded ahead of the race that it had been unable to identify what had contributed to one of its drivers sustaining a nightmare qualifying display.
Leclerc admits the subsequent decision to remove his SF-23 from the starting grid in order to make alterations did improve his feeling inside the car.
But the 25-year-old states that the narrow operating window of Ferrari’s 2023 challenger meant he encountered new problems during Sunday’s race.
When asked whether he had a better grasp on the car in the race, Leclerc responded: “I did. The limitations were the opposite. Yesterday, I had a rear that was super loose and super strange, and we will analyse this at the factory. Today, it was the front.
“It’s such a tiny window and we know that this is one of our weaknesses and we are struggling in those conditions and we need to be on top of those things.”
On the opposite side of the Ferrari garage, Carlos Sainz was hit by severe degradation troubles to drop from the front row of the grid down to fifth at the chequered flag.
Sainz was easily swarmed by the Mercedes pair on 10-lap fresher tyres before he also relinquished a position to the recovering Red Bull of Sergio Perez in the latter stages.
Reflecting on his weekend, the Spaniard believes he did the maximum he could in tough circumstances.
“It put in harder work today, but it didn’t show. This is what I was talking about yesterday with race pace and high-speed corners is our main weakness, and unfortunately, Barcelona has a high deg tarmac and high-speed configuration,” he explained.
“That is why we were struggling so much out there. And, with the predictability of the car. I did everything I could. I did the most optimal stints and driving I could, but P5 was the best we could achieve.”