Jock Clear identifies ‘main focus’ for Ferrari SF-23 in development war

Jamie Woodhouse
Carlos Sainz makes a pit stop for Ferrari in the grand prix. Miami May 2023

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz makes a pit stop in the grand prix. Miami May 2023

Ferrari want a “more benign” SF-23 to give Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz greater confidence, following a tricky start to F1 2023.

The Scuderia had seemingly made a clear step forward in Baku, Charles Leclerc claiming pole position for both the sprint and the Azerbaijan GP.

And while neither of those could be converted into victory, Red Bull showing off their superior race pace once more, Leclerc did score a sprint P2 and then P3 on Grand Prix day, giving Ferrari their first podium of the campaign.

But, just as Ferrari had been talking about eliminating “50 per cent” or more of their deficit to Red Bull, the Miami GP shed further light on how challenging the second-half of this mission is going to be.

Ferrari brought a floor upgrade to the Miami International Autodrome in a bid to make the SF-23 more predictable so that Leclerc and Sainz could push more with confidence, but Leclerc’s crash late in Q3 set the tone for another difficult race day to come.

Once more tyre management proved a struggle for the Scuderia, but perhaps even more alarming than that was Leclerc’s reveal that he and Sainz “basically agreed that we have a car that is so incredibly difficult to be on the limits”.

And Clear, Leclerc’s driver coach, spoke of how the floor upgrade is a move towards creating a less peaky SF-23, as the team make it their priority to match that with stronger set-up choices to give their drivers a challenger which they can push to the limit without such risk of incidents.

“With a new aero package over the winter, we’ve taken a while to find the set-up,” said Clear, as per Motorsport.com.

“This floor contributes to getting the car in a better window, as the drivers were reporting earlier it is peaky.

“We need to get rid of some of that peakiness. That’s probably the main focus at the moment, to make the car a bit more benign so the drivers have a bit more confidence.”

Delving deeper into that Miami floor upgrade, and how this area of the car can play a pivotal role in creating this more “benign” Ferrari, Clear added: “The height of the floor relative to the ground is a huge influence on the whole package of downforce.

“You generate so much downforce on the floor and the rear wing, but they’re interconnected. So, that’s the area of most people’s development.

“The section just ahead of the rear wheel, where you’re controlling the flow that goes either outside the wheel or inside the wheel and therefore into the diffuser area.

“The changes are quite subtle… but actually, in aerodynamic terms, they’re quite powerful.

“It’s just a response to the feedback we’ve had from the drivers through the first four races of the year in where the car is deficient.

“You can move the air around slightly, so give the driver a more consistent balance through medium-speed, high-speed, low-speed and braking and entry and then exit.

“All those areas where the floor is moving around a lot, we can try and make the car a bit more benign. That makes it more predictable for the driver.”

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Ferrari learning for F1 2024 now

It was always going to be a great learning exercise for the teams when Formula 1 introduced these ground-effect challengers in time for the 2022 campaign, and it is safe to say that Red Bull have put their learnings into action the best of all so far, and by quite some margin.

In fact, such is their superiority in race trim over Ferrari and the chasing pack after five rounds of F1 2023, it already is becoming very hard to see who could reel Red Bull in throughout the year, considering Red Bull are not standing still with their own development plans.

That being said, Red Bull principal Christian Horner has heard that Ferrari and Mercedes are preparing big upgrades to the point of creating “B-Spec” challengers, Mercedes believed to be unveiling their heavily modified W14 at the next round in Imola.

So admittedly, this does show that these teams are learning fast, but for Ferrari especially, it feels like their issues are beyond a quick in-season fix.

Leclerc pushing this tricky SF-23 over its limits a few times already highlights this ‘peaky’ nature which Ferrari want to eliminate, but even then, an answer still seems far away as to how the team can stop their alarming rate of tyre wear on race day, which when it really hits hard, effectively ruins any strategy flexibility they could hope to have.

The SF-23 seems like a challenger which has limitations too big to nullify, with the chance to truly go back to the drawing board for F1 2024’s challenger more likely to be when Ferrari can truly put together a machine which would get Red Bull sweating.