Ferrari believe they can fight McLaren for pace

Tom Rawcliffe

Lando Norris Charles Leclerc McLaren Ferrari PA

Ferrari think they can fight McLaren for pace this season, having closed the gap to last year’s ‘best of the rest’ over the winter break.

The Scuderia will be hoping to show themselves in a much better light in 2021 than last year, when they really suffered with a weak power unit and consequently fell to P6 in the Constructors’ World Championship.

They have spoken confidently over the past few months about the improvements they have made, but until the opening race weekend of the season nobody quite knows where they stand.

Carlos Sainz, who has joined Ferrari from McLaren, believes his performance compared to that of Daniel Ricciardo’s in Bahrain shows they have closed the gap between themselves and his old team.

Quoted by, Sainz said: “It’s encouraging because last year I remember that with that car [McLaren] I passed Charles [Leclerc] fairly easy, so I remember how big the difference between the McLaren and Ferrari was and how close I was to overtaking Ricciardo at the end.

“I think I had much better pace than Daniel towards the end of the race. We were catching at more than half a second per lap and there are positive signs.”

Charles Leclerc Carlos Sainz PA

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In the end, Sainz came home in P8, seeing the chequered flag just 0.096s later than his replacement at McLaren, and that has been a boost for those at Ferrari.

“There’s encouragement,” added Sainz. “There’s a big step compared to last year and now it’s a matter of keep refining the details, keep working hard back in Maranello and keep improving.

“We’ve done certainly a very good step and now we want to take the next steps. But as [team principal] Mattia [Binotto] said, this year will be more focused on next year. But I’m encouraged.

“Honestly, I’m happy with what I’ve seen, I’m happy with my feeling with the car to be a first race and I can see a positive start.”

His team-mate Charles Leclerc was, of course, with the Scuderia last year and finished P10 at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, then retired in the Sakhir GP after a collision with eventual winner Sergio Perez.

This year was a much more positive experience for the Monegasque driver, qualifying in an impressive P4 and finishing the race in P6.

“If I look at where we were last year at exactly the same place, there has been good progress,” said Leclerc.

“So surely we want to be fighting for the win very, very soon. But realistically and honestly, we’ve done a great job to catch that and now be closer to McLaren at least and fighting with them in the race, so let’s see at Imola.”

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