Carlos Sainz explains where his SF-23 is losing out to Red Bull

Michelle Foster
Carlos Sainz tests Ferrari SF-23 on the opening morning of pre-season testing in Bahrain. Bahrain February 2023

Carlos Sainz tests Ferrari SF-23 on the opening morning of pre-season testing in Bahrain. Bahrain February 2023

Carlos Sainz says the pain Ferrari are feeling this season is not because of their P4 in the Constructors’ Championship, rather it’s their deficit to Red Bull on the track that’s hurting.

Back on the top step of the podium last season, winning four grands prix in a campaign in which Ferrari were Red Bull’s closest rivals, the Scuderia went into this year’s championship expecting to pick up where they left off.

Instead they found that in their SF-23 they have a car that is peaky, unpredictable and not easy to drive because what the drivers feel in qualifying is different to how the car behaves over a longer distance.

“It’s not an easy car,” Sainz told The Race of his SF-23. “At the moment, we are struggling a bit with unpredictability, with a very tricky car, which makes putting laps together in qualy, race pace, changing conditions, tyre wear, wind, very, very tricky to predict and very tricky to adapt to.

“As a driver, leaving that aside, I feel like I understand how I need to drive this generation of cars, I understand how I want to set up the car to my liking, or at least this generation of cars to my liking. And that leaves me with less variables to think about going into a race weekend.

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“It hasn’t been an easy start, as I said, but I feel like even if the car is possibly even trickier than last year, I understand that trickiness better. And I can set-up and drive the car in my way.”

‘Red Bull have something deeper conceptually than all of us’

Ferrari’s lack of pace, and that of the rest of the field it must be said, has opened the door for an all-Red Bull title race with Max Verstappen leading Sergio Perez by 14 points.

With five wins from five races, four of those 1-2 results, it has been suggested the Milton Keynes squad could whitewash their rivals this season to win 22 from 22 – and of course cruise to the championship double for a second successive seasons.

Sainz, fifth in the Drivers’ standings with 44 points, trails Verstappen by 75 points as he chases his first podium of this season, never mind race win, while Ferrari are P4 in the teams’ battle where they are 146 points off the pace.

“It doesn’t hurt me so much being fourth in Constructors’ or fifth or sixth in Drivers’,” Sainz insists. “It hurts me more the gap to Red Bull.

“If now we would be sitting fourth in the Constructors’, but we know that every weekend we have a chance to make a pole and win a race, it would be easier to accept.

“It’s just how fast the Red Bull has turned out to be this year. And how it has struck us by surprise. Not only us, I think Mercedes and Aston Martin would never expect to have the gap they do.”

He added: “It’s realistic to say Red Bull has achieved a level of performance that it’s very difficult to achieve just by making an evolution of our car. They have something wider, they have something deeper conceptually than all of us.

“But after the first few races, we’ve also identified very clear weaknesses of our package, even in relation to last year. And it’s this combination of two things that we are now focusing very hard with.

“That’s why I’m quite calm about it, because I feel like we’ve identified the weaknesses compared to last year from ourselves but also we have an idea of which direction we need to follow in the development.”

‘It’s been tougher than any other year…’

Having watched as his expectations and hopes for this season past by with the speed of a Red Bull with DRS, Sainz concedes it’s been tough for the drivers and Ferrari as a whole.

“It’s been tougher than any other year,” rues the Spaniard. “Expectations were…I felt like 2022 was a bit of a comeback finally to the top for Ferrari. And I feel like we all expected to, at least, be fighting at a similar level.

“Not only me, but the whole team had this hope, this expectation. And suddenly finding yourself more than half a second adrift from the Red Bull was tough to handle.

“You suddenly need to reset, need to go back to the drawing board, and make sure you keep everyone motivated.

“The amount of work that is going on right now in Maranello with the development plan is huge. Trying to get the whole factory aligned and motivated on the next step is the most challenging.”