Craig Scarborough, the Formula 1 technical expert, believes the engine problems suffered by Charles Leclerc at the Bahrain Grand Prix are “a big worry” for Ferrari given the team’s focus on improving reliability over the winter.
With the team’s 2022 title challenge blighted by a series of engine failures for Leclerc – who was twice forced to retire from the lead of a race – and team-mate Carlos Sainz, Ferrari competed in a detuned state for much of the second half of the season and targeted reliability as a major area for improvement this season.
Leclerc retired after 39 laps of the first race of 2023 in Bahrain, with his stoppage coming after Ferrari had changed the energy store and control electronics on Leclerc’s power unit after qualifying.
Appearing as a guest on F1 journalist Peter Windsor’s YouTube channel, Scarborough speculated that Leclerc’s issue may have been similar to that suffered by Lando Norris, who was forced to pit several times to nurse a pneumatic issue on his McLaren.
He said: “There isn’t anything clear from Ferrari.
“What we saw is that the engine didn’t appear to blow up. He lost power, which is a different thing.
“His dashboard was still lit up, so that doesn’t mean it was some massive hybrid battery power failure, which a lot of people are suggesting it was and also, quite interestingly, a message came up on the dashboard as the car started to slow, which was ‘pit for refill’.
“Now, that would suggest a similar problem to what Lando Norris was having, which was the system inside the valves where – the F1 engines don’t run coil valve springs, they run pneumatic springs – that needs topping up if there’s a problem.
“That could just be because the engine was winding down on the overrun with no ignition and fuel running, so we honestly don’t know.
“But that is added to a change in battery control electronics for Leclerc before the race, which is why a lot of people are looking at the hybrid system as the cause.”
Sainz evaded reliability problems in Bahrain but his race pace was poor and the Spaniard complained of bouncing from the SF-23 car as he finished a distant fourth, 48 seconds behind the race-winning Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Scarborough, a consistent critic of Ferrari’s technical path since the ground effect rules were introduced at the beginning of last season, does not believe the Scuderia have the ingredients to pose a World Championship threat as things stand.
“It’s worrying that they’ve had potentially two issues – maybe connected, maybe not – in the first race,” he added.
“Obviously, Carlos had a cleaner run but equally had other issues with the car.
“So we just don’t know, but power unit problems is going to be a big worry for Ferrari having done all that work through last year and over the winter.
“And just generally, the car is kind of there but not really had that last bit of performance to really challenge the Red Bulls in a meaningful way in qualifying or the race, and that seems to come down to the rear end.
“They seem to suffer on traction. They clearly suffered with quite high tyre degradation.
“If they want to go for a Championship, at the moment you don’t see where that would come from.”