Leclerc praises mentality shift by Ferrari F1 in 2023 compared to 2020 season: “No one gave up”

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Speaking in an exclusive interview with Auto Motor und Sport, Charles Leclerc has opened up about Ferrari’s 2023 season and the difference in mentality within the team compared to three years ago.

In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Monegasque was P3 and P2 (+ a grid penalty of 10 spots), but it immediately became clear that the Red Bull was far superior in race trim. In fact, Mercedes and Aston Martin in the hands of Fernando Alonso tended to be quicker on a Sunday, too.

Even before the season got underway, Leclerc knew they were in bother after trying the car in pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit.

“It was clear to me right after the winter tests: Carlos [Sainz] drove on the first morning with almost no wind and he was quite satisfied. I got into the car in the afternoon and the wind picked up and the car was suddenly extremely difficult to drive. At first I was still unsure because I didn’t know how the other cars would react to it.

“When Red Bull drove a race simulation with full tanks on the last test day, we realized that they are far ahead of us in the race trim. Full tanks are full tanks.”

Although Leclerc took poles at Baku and Spa [thanks to Verstappen’s penalty], the real turnaround in their campaign began from Monza onwards.

During the Dutch Grand Prix weekend, the Scuderia emphasised they were testing things on the car as they attempted to learn and improve. While that weekend was pretty brutal in regards to pace, it ultimately paid off.

“The turnaround came at Zandvoort, we tried completely different things with the two cars and learned a lot from them.

“In the first part of the season we also experimented a lot, some of it helped, some of it didn’t. So it looked like we didn’t know what we were doing, but we learned from each of these steps.

“Zandvoort was then more the moment when we secured the understanding gained so far through special tests.”

The 26-year-old paid tribute to the team for nothing give up and learning to keep fighting following a tough 2020 campaign.

After a secret agreement with the FIA over suspicions in regards to their 2019 power unit, the Italian giants toiled the following season, finishing a lowly P6 in the Constructors’ Championship as they could only score three podiums in a car that was incredibly difficult to drive for Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.

At the time, they were led by Mattia Binotto. It was Fred Vasseur at the helm in 2023.

“You have to accept it as it is, you have no choice. I somehow felt reminded of 2020. After a good 2019 season with my first wins, I wanted more and then this setback came.

“From that time we learned that it is super important not to lose the motivation when things don’t work out. The reaction of the team this year was incredible and very different from 2020, no one gave up. There is a much greater will to change something during the season.”

Ferrari’s tests at the Dutch GP — as well as a floor update at Suzuka — saw them take five poles over the rest of the season. Carlos Sainz converted his into a win in Singapore. Leclerc probably would have in Las Vegas if it wasn’t for a Safety Car intervention just over halfway through.

However, too many limitations on the car over a race distance ultimately held them back against Red Bull and Max Verstappen from the start of the season until the end.

“As we gradually understood our weak points, the factory set out to complete certain upgrades earlier in order to perhaps improve something this year.

“Yes, we made some progress, but it wasn’t enough to catch up with Red Bull. To achieve this, other things on the car would have to be changed, which is unfortunately not possible during the season.”

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari