Suzuka floor update “very beneficial” for Leclerc in final part of F1 2023 season — Vasseur

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Charles Leclerc’s 2023 campaign came to an end at a less than ideal possible time in many ways. The Monégasque driver was on a stunning run of form following a floor upgrade that was brought to the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

The 26-year-old had struggled throughout the season with a car that did not talk to him as he would like it to. Spain was the lowest point — a Q1 elimination and finishing P11 in the race left him visibly confused.

However, he constantly talked about the need to adapt his driving style to the demands of the SF-23. Things came his way from Suzuka onwards.

With a car that suited him much better following that floor upgrade, the 24-time polesitter outqualified Carlos Sainz at seven consecutive events, including three positions at COTA, Mexico and Las Vegas.

Three podiums in his last three race starts saw the Monegasque claim P5 in the championship, two places and six points ahead of his teammate. Had a badly timed Safety Car not happened at Las Vegas, it’s likely he would have joined Sainz as a race winner in 2023.

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur was asked about Leclerc’s cracking performances late in the season. The Frenchman conceded the floor update helped Leclerc a lot.

“We had a small upgrade in Japan — in terms of pure performance it was not something mega.

“But I think in terms of comfort it was important and very beneficial for Charles.

“But, you know, sometimes it’s a matter of details. You have a track that you like and you are doing a better job.”

Qualifying in Abu Dhabi was pretty extraordinary as 0.628s covered the top 18 in Q1. The biggest casualty was Carlos Sainz as the Spaniard was knocked out in Q1 for the first time in 2023 last Saturday.

Vasseur admits he expects professional athletes to have their highs and lows, citing tennis great Roger Federer at Wimbledon as an example.

The Swiss maestro won it eight times, but he also had four exits before the third round.

“At the end of the day, we are speaking about tenths of a second. From one weekend to another, we have to accept they are sportsmen.

“[Roger] Federer can win one day at Wimbledon and lose the other one.

“I am taking them always as sportsmen that can be up and down.”

During Mercedes’ dominant era, particularly between 2014-2016 and 2020, Valtteri Bottas, Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton could afford to have a scruffy lap in Q3 and still easily bag P2 on the grid. They usually had close to or even more than a second advantage in the pocket.

Vasseur believes mistakes are much more costly these days due to how tight the field is.

He also added it’s important not to overreact in the analysis when a driver has a tricky weekend, such as Sainz’s in Abu Dhabi or Leclerc’s in Spain.

“What is true today though is that if you have a look five years ago, the Mercedes guys could miss one corner and they were still in pole position. If you miss one corner today, you are out in Q1.

”If you look at the two McLarens, they were out in Q1 last week and they were able to fight for the pole position this weekend.

“This is true for everybody, except Max perhaps. It’s true for Checo.

“It means that we don’t have to draw too big of a conclusion after one change or something like this.”

He concluded his point on Ferrari and Leclerc’s strong end to 2023. With Sainz taking poles at Monza and Singapore, as well as the aforementioned ones delivered by Leclerc, the Scuderia bagged five out of the last nine poles in 2023.

“I think Charles was in much better shape in the last part of the season — the last six or seven races.

“We did five or six pole positions out of the last nine. This was a positive dynamic.”