F1 Spanish GP updates “just to try and improve the package overall” as “longer term developments” required for biggest weaknesses — Leclerc

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari
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Ferrari F1 driver Charles Leclerc spoke on Thursday of the Spanish Grand Prix, highly optimistic that the team will get back on their feet after a rough weekend in Canada.

Ferrari had the worst event so far in Canada, with an unexpected exit in Q2 for both drivers. Leclerc and teammate Sainz then suffered a double DNF, leading to their first non-score of 2024.

The Monegasque driver emphasises that the team has the engine issues that plagued his car in Montreal under control and are confident that they’ll get back on their feet after a bad weekend.

“We found a solution. I’m not going to go into the details of what was it exactly, but obviously we were losing a lot of lap time in the straights, which pushed us to retire the car. This was difficult to control until we actually understood now what went wrong. We understood, we fixed it.

“The thing that we have been focusing most in the last few days since we understood the engine issue was mostly the lack of performance on the Saturday, which again here I think we didn’t manage things the way we should have had. There was clearly more performance in the car, so I’m confident that we’ll be back to our level again in the last days.”

The 26-year-old says that Red Bull will come back stronger this weekend and that the team will show their regular show of dominance on a track that he says is well suited to the RB20.

It’s been much closer recently at tracks where a lot of kerb riding is required.

“Yes, me personally, and I’m not speaking on behalf of the team, but my personal opinion is that we will see a stronger Red Bull and a Red Bull that we have seen at the beginning of the season back here in Barcelona. Just because of the track layout, normally I would see a Red Bull going very fast around here.

“I do also believe that the last four races, from Miami to the last race in Canada, was quite a lot about kerb riding as well, and it’s probably not one of the strengths of the Red Bull. I believe we’ll see them back to a really good level this weekend.

The 26-year-old driver is hopeful that if Ferrari is very competitive this weekend with their new parts, they will be strong everywhere over the rest of the campaign.

“However, we also have some new parts in the car for this weekend, and if that helps us to be very close here, it’s a good sign for the rest, because normally Barcelona is quite representative for the rest of the season. So it’s going to be an interesting weekend, and if we’re in the [top] five here, it’s a good sign for the rest of the year.”

Leclerc denies that he is downplaying their performance this season, truly believing Red Bull will be ahead in terms of pace at this event.

“I’m not going to say we are downplaying ourselves. I truly believe that coming Sunday, and especially during the race, they will have the upper hand. How much will the advantage be? I’m not sure. It’s impossible to answer for now.

“We are much closer than where we were seven or eight months ago. I’m optimistic for the future because we are doing a good job as a team. We have a clear vision of what we want to improve.

“I don’t think we are downplaying. I’m being very honest of where I think we will be for this weekend. That means I think we are a bit behind Red Bull, coming race day. In qualifying, I think we will be a bit closer.”

There has been quite a few engine changes so far for Leclerc this year. It happened in Miami, Imola and Monaco, all as a precautionary measure, before retiring in Canada.

However the Monegasque assures that they are not concerned about engine reliability in their half.

“No, no, no. We are not concerned. Of course, there have been quite a few movements with the engine lately. We are evaluating absolutely everything. No concerns for now. We are just playing with the engines we have in the pool. Then we will see after this race. I think this race will be an important one for us to assess everything.”

When asked about McLaren’s competitiveness, Leclerc was not surprised that they are now a serious competitor.

The improvements McLaren has made from Austria onwards last year has seen them move from the midfield to the front.

Nonethless, Leclerc says all of Ferrari’s focus is on themselves.

“They are definitely a very strong competitor. I think a year ago, I cannot remember when Silverstone was. From Silverstone onwards, they have done a big step forward. From that moment, we knew that they were in the game. They have been in the game since then, really. Some races, struggling a bit more.

“Some others, a bit stronger than what we expected. But all in all, they have been there since that day. From that moment onwards, I was expecting them to be in the fight with us.

“But again, we are just focusing on ourselves. I think, repeating myself, the most positive thing about where we are now is that we have a clear vision of where we need to improve and how to do that. That is a good thing.”

Ferrari’s Spanish GP updates are not aimed at improving their biggest issue: the deficiencies in long, low speed corners, as Shanghai exposed in a big manner.

Leclerc says the newest package for the SF-24 is to give them more performance in every single type of corner.

“Obviously, we have seen since two or three races, I mean since China especially, that we have this weakness with the low, long corners. Long, low-speed corners. That we will try to tackle.

“However, it was too short term to tackle it with this one. I think this one is just to try and improve the package overall. As every team, try to add a little bit of downforce, try to take off a little bit of drag and then you’ve got a better car.

“This is what we are trying to do with this package, just to improve it a little bit everywhere. And then for the longer term developments, we will target more what we have seen since the beginning of the year.”

The car’s balance is a bit trickier than Ferrari would’ve hoped for in those type of corners, says Leclerc.

He adds that even if they completely nailed the low speed right now, they would not be at the level of Red Bull or McLaren.

“It’s a bit more complex than that. I think the way our car works, we struggle a bit too much with the balance of the car in long, low speed corners. So it’s just in these particular corners that our car, the way it’s designed, is not performing the way we want to.

“We have ideas already how to optimize our package in those situations and probably in a better way than what we’ve done in China, which was where we were struggling the most.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, but I don’t think that the problem is to find a balance between high and low speed. I just think that even if we optimise the low speed, we wouldn’t be as good as a McLaren or a Red Bull.”