The hype over Ferrari F1’s P3 finish in Bahrain GP is overblown, when P2 was possible with Leclerc

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari
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2024 Formula One season has just begun. We spent the first two track weeks in Bahrain — first for testing, second for racing.

One down. Twenty-three to go.

The reality has sunk in — Max Verstappen is inevitable. The next stage is reluctant acceptance.

Unless the other teams find a big step, it is set to be another year of absolute domination.

And yet, coming off the Bahrain no one seems to be focused on that.

Every media outlet since Saturday has been hailing the praises for the Spaniard under the lights of Bahrain — which seems to be an annual tradition at this point.

Last year it was Alonso, this year it was Sainz.

Alonso stood on the podium in the opening round, securing a third place finish behind the 1-2 of Red Bull — a miracle. Aston Martin were fast in testing, they made a few heads turn.

But that came to be because Charles Leclerc — who was comfortably third — retired on Lap 41, sixteen shy of the chequered flag.

Fernando Alonso did not put a foot wrong once the opportunity presented itself. The hype was justified as he drove a superb race following a tough 2022 for Aston Martin.

They kept finding their way to the podium throughout the season before the upgrades Aston Martin brought didn’t yield results.

Come back to 2024.

Carlos Sainz finished third in the opening round of the 2024 season.

He qualified P4 behind his teammate, Charles Leclerc and the Mercedes driver, George Russell.

He got overtaken by Sergio Perez, who qualified P5, right at the start. Sainz proceeded to overtake an ailing Leclerc and Russell through the course of the race.

Leclerc had brake imbalance temperature issues — a difference of a 100°C between the front left and the front right.

Russell’s W15 had cooling issues. He said in the interview with Formula One that it “cost us half a second a lap.”

Another opportunity presents itself, another Spaniard takes it. But is the hype truly justified?

Ferrari’s SF–24 is faster than it’s predecessor. The car and the driver look in harmony — after a year of asking.

The Scuderia seems no longer seems satisfied with Red Bull’s leftovers as suggested by Fred Vasseur’s statement in the post-race interviews.

Not good enough. Considering the issues with Charles’s brakes, I can’t say it was ‘good’. We contained it well enough, and he finished the race in P4. Carlos had a bad start, but a strong race and got a deserved podium. Better than last year, but still behind.”

P3 is not worth celebrating, not worth the hype — judging by Vasseur’s statements, it is the bare minimum.

Especially considering when a P2 was on the table at the helm of Charles Leclerc, who was extremely frustrated with the mechanical issues.

“I struggle to see the positives at the end of the weekend when it’s time to put everything together, then we have an issue. So I am very disappointed with today.”

Charles Leclerc drove and finished the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix in P4 by being adaptable. He realised the severity of the issue, and quickly changed his breaking points. Leclerc reportedly lost six tenths per lap in the first stint.

The imbalance temperature stabilized itself — it did not resolve. He was managing it throughout.

“In the first ten laps, it was impossible. Every lap I was doing, I would brake three or four meters earlier — but the issue was getting much, much worse every lap(s). So, everytime I was basing my feeling in the previous lap, but in the meantime the issue was a lot more.”

Not only did Leclerc manage to finish the race, he also proceeded to overtake George Russell — while virtually driving without his brakes.

The question then perhaps is apparent: Why is Sainz’s drive to P3 being hailed as a phenomenon unforeseen when all he really managed was to overtake two cars riddled with reliability concerns?

What does it say about Ferrari’s race pace that both Vasseur and Leclerc had dejected faces with a P3-P4 finish?

Reading in between lines is important, but for some reason no one seems to be paying much heed to the undercurrent of Scuderia’s messaging.