F1 2023 | Ferrari | The fall from grace continues

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After the end of the fifth race of the season, Ferrari stands in 4th place in the Constructors’ Championship with 78 points. It wasn’t the start the Italian team hoped for, but there are still 17 races to go.

Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari’s start to the 2022 season had the fans curious to see whether their first driver Charles Leclerc could challenge Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the drivers’ championship, yet, their 2023 performance is far from it.

The Monegasque driver had 2 DNFs within the first 5 races with only one podium at Baku. Despite the changes in the team management, Ferrari doesn’t seem to have gained the boost they were hoping for.

What went wrong with Ferrari this season, how can we explain their performance and would it be possible to see the team back to glory?

New team principal, new hopes

Mattia Binotto, team principal of one of the most famous brands in the world, parted ways with Ferrari at the end of 2022 season that began with great expectations but ended with disappointment. He was replaced by Frederic Vasseur who had previously worked for Alfa Romeo. Drivers were quick to start expressing the potential they see in Vasseur.

Charles Leclerc, who made his Formula 1 debut with Alfa Romeo (Sauber at that time) under Vasseur’s management said: “I can only comment on my experiences with Fred, which have always been good even from the junior categories. He was always very clear and honest, which is something I like. We’ve always had a good relationship and he’s a very good team principal.”

Similarly, Ferrari’s second driver Carlos Sainz commented: “He will need time to figure out what changes the team needs, but I have heard great things about him. That doesn’t happen from one day to the next” ,acknowledging the fact that these changes do not happen overnight.

Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari

“The Ferrari job is a huge challenge for anyone, but he can do it,” Grosjean explained when asked about Vasseur’s appointment. “He and Leclerc are very close friends and this helps the environment, but he also knows Sainz well. Frederic Vasseur is a born competitor and understands racing like few others. Above all, I’ve never met a better engineer who understands us as drivers. It’s as if he were a driver himself,” he added.

However, there were some criticisms of Ferrari’s constant changes as it does not let a team boss stay within the squad for long enough to fully grasp what it needs and act on it. Former racing driver Martin Brundle explained it as: “If I was Mercedes or Red Bull right now, I’d be smiling because continuity is everything. As Formula 1 seasons get longer and more intense, you have to be careful of these sea changes of personnel.”

The Frenchman has only had 5 races with the team, so it is still early to jump into a conclusion on his performance.

The issue of reliability and consistency with the SF-23

Ferrari’s 2023 performance has been impacted significantly by their reliability issues. This means they are unable to compete as competitively as they should and lose crucial points due to this. Leclerc retired from P3 in Bahrain and had to take a 10-place grid penalty in Saudi Arabia.

In order to get points, you first need to be able to rely on your car and at least finish the race. Red Bull’s advisor Helmut Marko commented on this issue by saying:“Ferrari has the more powerful engine, but what’s the point of having the more powerful engine if it isn’t reliable?”

Marc Gene, a member of the team for many years, admits that:“We suffered with reliability, which was something completely unexpected. Really, we were not expecting that. And then, of course, the tyre management, which is something we knew was going to be a hard point for us.”

Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Another point of concern is that ahead of round three in Australia, customers of Ferrari such as Haas and Alfa Romeo moved onto fresh engine parts by taking new ICEs for their drivers.

Charles Leclerc expressed his frustrations with the SF-23 following a difficult Miami Grand Prix for the Monegasque, where he finished in P7, 50 seconds behind eventual race winner Max Verstappen.

Despite the team bringing upgrades to the race this weekend, the 25-year-old explained that tyre degradation and inconsistent performance on different compounds caused him problems in the race. The Ferrari driver highlighted these issues when speaking to the media after his race:

“I was just speaking just now with Carlos and what we are lacking is consistency in the car.”

Never-ending need for better communication

Ferrari’s second greatest issue in 2023 after reliability has been their strategy. Leclerc suffered a series of strategic errors that cost him points.

For instance, in the second round of the season in Jeddah, Leclerc was told to “…push from Safety Car line one. Hamilton just pitted” by his engineer, to which he replied “Xavi, you need to tell me that before!”

The Italian team has become so accustomed to mid-table finishes that they do not know what to do with a competitive car, even when SF-23 performs as it should.

Without any doubt, Charles Leclerc takes the biggest damage after every discourteous team decision. It would have been great to see Leclerc go wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen once every two weeks just like the Dutchman and Lewis Hamilton did in 2021.

Last year, we saw a glimpse of a potential Red Bull versus Ferrari battle and it was great value, two of the best three drivers in the paddock were lining up with the best two cars. However, what we see now is a frustrated driver with lots of potential in 7th place of the drivers’ championship, 85 points behind the championship leader Max Verstappen.

Keeping the spirits up

Now, we are left with both Leclerc and Sainz, and all the Tifosi wondering what will happen next.

Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Before the Australian GP, the five-time grand prix winner stated that it was too early to rule Ferrari out of the championship and that it would just negatively affect the team. However, later on he declared: “The start of the season is a disaster, it’s really not the start of the season I was hoping for. DNF in Bahrain, penalty in Jeddah, and DNF here. Really not the start of the season I was hoping for.”

“At the moment I don’t have long-term goals for this season. We have to think about finishing race by race without taking penalties and having problems,” he added.

The current performance of the team does not look so bright for Carlos Sainz either. The Spaniard currently sits in 5th place with 44 points. He had incredibly difficult weekend’s in Bahrain and Baku, but he has managed to be more consistent than his teammate.

Looking at the issue as a whole from people in the team to technical side of things, it wouldn’t be absurd to say that Ferrari’s chances of getting back into a winning position in 2023 season is slim to nothing.