Jo Ramirez, the legendary team co-ordinator at McLaren during the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, has backed Ferrari to emerge as the second-fastest team on the F1 2023 grid when their reliability problems are overcome.
The Fred Vasseur era officially began at the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the problems Ferrari encountered at the 2023 season opener seemed eerily similar to last year.
Despite locking out the second row of the grid at the Sakhir circuit, Ferrari faded badly on race day with Charles Leclerc retiring with an engine problem and team-mate Carlos Sainz finishing in fourth place, 48 seconds behind the dominant Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Ferrari’s unimpressive start to the new season came after their 2022 title challenge was blighted by a series of reliability problems and pit/strategic errors, leading to the resignation of team principal Mattia Binotto and the appointment of Vasseur.
Ramirez believes Ferrari have the raw ingredients to emerge as Red Bull’s closest competitors in 2023, but has warned that the team still have the potential to be their own worst enemies.
He told Spanish publication AS: “It should be Ferrari because they are fast and have a good engine but they always have a reliability or strategy mistake.
F1 rumours: Ferrari’s Laurent Mekies mulling over Alpine, Liberty Media and FIA offers
Is Fernando Alonso a better F1 driver than Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton?
Helmut Marko tells Mercedes they can ‘forget about the title’ after just one race
“There is always something wrong with them but if they fix it they will be behind Red Bull.”
Despite competing against Red Bull for victories at the start of 2022, come the end of last season Ferrari were hanging on to P2 in the Constructors’ standings in the face of a growing Mercedes threat.
Despite Mercedes’ current malaise, with the team acknowledging the need to evolve away from their current car concept, Ramirez feels the eight-time Constructors’ Champions cannot be dismissed.
“We shouldn’t forget Mercedes either, even if they are not doing well at the moment,” he added.
“It is a team with such a strong structure and so many quality drivers that in four or five races we will see them at the top for sure.”
Could Aston Martin emerge as Ferrari’s biggest threat for P2?
If we are to assume that Red Bull are long gone and Max Verstappen will have his third successive title effectively secured by mid-summer, the race for second in the Constructors’ Championship will soon become the main source of competition in 2023.
With Mercedes stuck in a process of chasing their tails over the development direction of the car, Ferrari’s weaknesses (tyre management and reliability) seem both more obvious and more curable than most cars in Red Bull’s wake.
Except, perhaps, for one.
Aston Martin’s breakthrough race in Bahrain came with a promise from the team that this was just the start, Fernando Alonso expecting more to come and the AMR23 car to be further optimised having praised it over the team radio mid-race in Sakhir, where he easily had the beating of Sainz on race pace.
Could Aston’s strong start to the new season now be consolidated into a serious push for P2?
In that eventuality, the role of the drivers will be crucial and with recent history – see Alpine v McLaren in 2022 – telling us that teams with two drivers contributing consistent points are most likely to prevail in a tight battle in the Constructors’ Championship, most would expect the Leclerc/Sainz partnership to see off the combination of Alonso and the occasionally erratic Lance Stroll.
But maybe, just maybe, Ferrari’s biggest challenge will come from a team most had ruled out as serious contenders until last month.