Charles Leclerc says Ferrari “have learned a few things” that he hopes will enable the team to have the “upper hand” over Mercedes.
Ferrari has struggled throughout 2023 to get a grasp on its capricious SF-23 car and entered the break fourth in the standings, 56 points behind Mercedes in second.
However, since running extensive tests at Zandvoort, Ferrari has developed a better understanding of its package, enabling the side to take successive pole positions and score the only non-Red Bull victory of the season through Carlos Sainz in Singapore.
Despite falling behind McLaren at Suzuka, the Italian marque outscored Mercedes for the third consecutive weekend in Japan, reducing the margin down to just 20 points.
Leclerc believes Ferrari has taken a step forward recently and is optimistic that it will provide the team with the base to overhaul Mercedes across the remaining six rounds.
“Mercedes are strong, especially in the races. In Japan, they put us under a bit of pressure at the end by splitting the cars. In qualifying, it’s a bit more inconsistent, so it’s going to be a very close fight,” Leclerc told Sky Sports F1.
“We are a bit more inconsistent in the race, they are a bit more inconsistent in qualifying. But, I have a feeling inside me that we have learned a few things in the last weekend that will hopefully give us the upper hand for the rest of the season.”
Ferrari Team Principal Frederic Vasseur asserts its battle with Mercedes can’t be delayed because of the potential risk of paying the price for it early next year.
The ex-Alfa Romeo chief remains convinced that sharpening the team’s mindset in a closely fought contest is the optimal way to prepare for future fights that lie ahead.
“You don’t have to postpone the fight, the fight is with Mercedes today, and we have to take it,” he said.
“It’s always the best way to prepare for the future, for the mindset of the team, for everybody to be into the fight is crucial. And we’ll keep this fight until the end of the season.”
“It’s never a sacrifice, because I think that performance is coming from performance. It’s too late to go into the wind tunnel for this season, but what we can do on the current car will help us for next year.”
Ferrari brought a modified floor to Suzuka, but Vasseur contends that the Maranello camp was already showing signs of progress before the addition of any upgrades.
“We have also to avoid drawing too quick conclusions,” he added. “Before the break, in Spa, we were also in good shape, but Charles [Leclerc] started fourth. He was theoretically on the first row, but he started from pole position and did a good race.
“As it’s a matter of hundredths of seconds, sometimes you do a small step, you have the feeling that everything is changed.
“It’s not exactly the reality and from race-to-race, and from track-to-track. Even the drivers, sometimes the setup is more fitting with Carlos or Charles.
“It’s sport, in the end, you can accept that one is doing a better job than the others from weekend to weekend. And I think that we have a positive competition, and this is also helping us to improve.”