Fred Vasseur believes Ferrari have eradicated 50, maybe even 60, percent of Red Bull’s advantage since the beginning of this season.
But, he concedes, eliminating the next 50 percent will not be easy.
Ferrari not only achieved their first pole position of this season at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, ending Red Bull’s run of P1s in qualifying, they also bagged their first podium of this season in a grand prix.
Charles Leclerc was third in Azerbaijan, the driver 21s down the road from the rampant Red Bull team-mates who were back to finishing 1-2 after a blip at the Australian Grand Prix.
Leclerc’s deficit was more than half of his team-mate Carlos Sainz’s gap to Red Bull at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
That, coupled with the Monégasque driver’s pole positions in qualifying and the sprint shootout, both of which he followed up with top-three finishes, is cause for optimism insists team boss Vasseur.
“It’s a long way to go and we have still 19 races,” he told Channel 4. “If you consider where we were in Jeddah and where we are today I think we did more than 50 percent of the gap.”
But, he admits, “the next 50 percent it’s not the easiest one. We know we have to improve and we know where we have to improve.
“The most important is that this kind of weekend [Baku], we took pole position position and had a good stint in the race that will give us more confidence.”
Race pace has been Ferrari’s Achilles’ Heel this season, the SF-23 not only unbalanced but also lacking in downforce. Those two combined have resulted in a car that’s a tyre-eater.
However, it was less so in Baku where both Leclerc and Sainz were able to put in a strong final stint.
“I don’t know if it’s 50 or 60”, Vasseur added of the narrowing of the deficit, nor will he explain what’s behind it.
“I can’t speak about this,” he said, “but I think the car is much easier to drive compared to the first events and this is giving more confidence to the drivers clearly and more consistency as well on the long stints.
“And I think that it’s clear that when the car is much more easier to drive as it was this weekend, that they are confident they can push and to do the pole position with car was quite good.”
Ferrari’s performance in Baku meant while the team stayed P4 in the Constructors’ Championship, the gap to third-placed Mercedes is down to 14 points.
“For sure, we were expecting to be in better shape at the beginning,” the Frenchman conceded, “and I don’t want to bulls**t you, but what I’m very pleased about is the reaction of the team.
“We are never in a panic mode, that after the first three events – and Jeddah was tough for us – but the reaction between Jeddah and Melbourne was a very good one.
“The approach, even on the development, there was never panic or to change everything on the car. It was not the plan.
“We were always focused on bringing small updates to understand what we are doing first, to understand where we can improve the potential, to first reach the potential of the car.
“And I’m more than pleased with this kind of reaction, although for sure, I would love to be in better shape.
“It’s nothing to do with the results but the reaction of the team has been positive, calm, and it is paying off today.”
Once again downplaying talk of a B-spec car, he insisted it was “too early to take this kind of decision” with Ferrari set to bring updates to this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix.
“We will start to bring updates on the car from Miami and for the next couple of events and the car will react to the update,” he added.
“The update is one thing, but the fact you are able to extract all the potential of the update is another one.
“To understand if it’s coming from mechanical or aero is another story. So far, what is of use, is that we are struggling with consistency.
“That was true over the weekend (in Baku) – all over the corners, all over a lap, and all through the race, the car was much more consistent and we are going in the right direction.”