It “cannot be explained” declared Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur after a disappointing Spanish Grand Prix weekend where the upgraded SF-23 left them with more questions than answers.
“Our biggest problem is inconsistency,” he added to Auto Motor und Sport.
Racing an SF-23 that has been billed as unpredictable, peaky and erratic, Ferrari have yet to win a race this season with the Scuderia struggling to turn their qualifying pace into champagne celebrations.
Although the drivers featured on the qualifying podium in five of the opening six races, between the two of them they’ve claimed only one Sunday podium.
With Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz speaking about the inconsistency of the car from Saturday to Sunday, Sainz explained that “every Saturday we fight for pole and then Sunday comes and we get a bit of a slap in the face in the race.”
It ultimately led to Ferrari making the call to revise their car, dropping the baby bath in-wash sidepods in favour of a down-wash philosophy with the new-look car on the track at the Spanish Grand Prix. It also featured a new floor.
Speaking ahead of the race weekend, team boss Vasseur said the new concept would “open some doors for the development for the future” but was quick to add that he did not expect a “huge” step forward immediately.
But based on Ferrari’s performance in Spain, it’s fair to ask was it a step at all – other than one in the wrong direction.
Instead of answering questions for the Italian team, it seems the Spanish upgrade has left them more confused than ever.
“It’s very difficult to understand and to fix it because it’s not always the same problem,” Vasseur admitted. “We are there in qualy and we are not there in the race. We are inconsistent on the same car between compounds and sometimes between the same compounds.”
That was an issue Leclerc experienced in the race with the driver complaining that his car behaved different between the first and third stint even though he was on the hard tyres for both of those.
“I don’t understand what we are doing wrong but we are doing something wrong,” he lamented.
It meant that instead of slicing his way through the field in a recovery drive and working his way towards the front of the pack, Leclerc finished a disappointing P11 and was only a handful of seconds away from being lapped by race winner Max Verstappen.
As for Sainz, who’s car preferred the hard compound but lost time on the softs – contrary to Leclerc, he wasn’t able to defend his P2 on the starting grid with the Spaniard losing positions to Lewis Hamilton, George Russell and Sergio Perez – the latter two having lined up outside the top-ten.
Sainz, though, refused to condemn the upgrades saying: “I trust that what we did is the right direction, now we need to start addressing our weaknesses with the bouncing, with the high-speed, and with this new package and direction hopefully we can start bringing performance.”
His team-mate didn’t sound as enthused, though, and only adds to the current inconsistency that is slowing down Ferrari’s rate of progression. With his win-less streak extended to 18 races, Leclerc accepted: “We are struggling more than what I expected.”
Asked if the situation would have to get worse for it to get better, he replied: “I hope not. And to be honest looking at our weekend, I struggle to think that it can get worse than that. The target is to only get better from here.”
But given that within the space of 24 hours he went from a loose rear-end in qualifying to a loose front-end in the race, understeer on the hard tyres in the first stint to no problems with that same compound in the third, Ferrari first need to understand what’s gone wrong before they can get better.
And that understanding didn’t arrive with their Spanish GP upgrades.
“Perhaps we can steer a little bit of the development on the consistency,” Vasseur said. “And to have something a bit more easy to drive and so that we can steer a bit.
“It’s the direction that we took the last couple of months or weeks. And I think that we are a bit more consistent than we were at one stage.
“The issue is more than on the chassis side, the issue is more from stint to stint because if you had something like this you could say that it’s always there.”