Explained: Why ‘fast-tracked’ Ferrari upgrade failed to put them in Spain GP pole battle

Elizabeth Blackstock
Charles Leclerc of Ferrari during qualifying for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari during qualifying for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix

A comprehensive performance upgrade package for the Ferrari camp ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix still can’t shake the Scuderia’s primary problem — porpoising on high-speed corners — and has left Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz starting in P5 and P6, respectively.

Though both Ferrari drivers claimed to feel good in practice, things changed drastically when the competition turned up the wick in qualifying. Now, the Italian team is left searching for answers as McLaren, Red Bull, and Mercedes have all triumphed in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Carlos Sainz: “I expected a fight for pole”

Additional reporting by Sam Cooper

To say that Carlos Sainz Jr. wasn’t expecting to start from sixth place ahead of his home Grand Prix would be an understatement. After qualifying, he stated that, “I expected a fight for pole, or at least to be within a tenth, a tenth-and-a-half of the Red Bull or the McLaren. We were three-and-a-half, which is quite a big gap.”

Ferrari arrived at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with a suite of upgrades that included a higher downforce rear wing designed for Barcelona, a revamped diffuser, an increased sidepod/coke undercut, and an altered floor designed to optimize airflow.

But these fast-tracked upgrades haven’t solved the team’s most critical problem: Porpoising.

“We still have this bouncing phenomenon that gives us a very tough time in the high-speed corners,” Sainz explained. “The third year of these regulations, I’m fighting this porpoising in high-speed corners when you put lateral load in the car. It’s been tough all weekend to try and get rid of it.”

As Sainz explains it, the competition has found a way to minimize or eliminate the bouncing, whereas Ferrari has simply struggled to discover that secret.

“We’re probably going to find something to unlock some more performance in these medium and high-speed tracks,” he stated.

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Charles Leclerc: Updates prioritized performance, not drivability

While Sainz’s teammate Charles Leclerc didn’t pinpoint any bouncing issues as the primary issue with Ferrari’s upgrades, the Monegasque driver did note that the team’s changes were designed to prioritize performance, not drivability.

“What we’ve seen is bringing performance to the car, for sure. We are seeing the numbers that we expected,” Leclerc explained. He also noted that he felt he could access that performance but admitted that being three-tenths off the pace means “there’s for sure something that today we missed.”

Both drivers drove home the fact that they had high expectations for Ferrari’s upgrades, but that they hadn’t expected the competition’s upgrades to be quite so formidable.

“It’s sure that the upgrade we brought is doing what it’s supposed to do, and it’s a good step forward,” Leclerc explained. “However, it’s always a relative sport, and other teams have also brought upgrades. Then it all depends on how much of a step forward everybody’s doing.”

Sainz added further clarification to the team’s expectations.

“After free practice, I thought we had a chance to fight for pole position this weekend, but very quickly in Q2, we realized we were just a step too far,” Sainz explained. “We could sit here and argue that with three-hundredths more, we could be P3, but the reality is that I’m looking more at the gap to Lando [Norris] than the gap to the Mercedes because three-tenths is a lot of lap time around Barcelona.”

There’s still all to play for on race day, and Sainz expressed hope that Ferrari could develop a strategy that could bring its drivers closer to the battle for a podium. However, it’s clear that the Scuderia still has work left to do to find better drivability at the medium and high-speed tracks remaining on the calendar.

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