Marc Gene offers insight into Charles Leclerc’s DNF amid speculation of the cause

Michelle Foster
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc looks dejected. Bahrain, March 2023.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc looks dejected. Bahrain, March 2023.

Despite speculation Charles Leclerc’s Bahrain retirement was caused by his SF-23’s battery or even a wiring loom gone wrong, Marc Gene says it looks as if it was the combustion engine.

At the beginning of a season in which Leclerc declared he was up for a title fight, the Monégasque driver instead left the Sakhir circuit 25 points behind Max Verstappen having retired from the season-opening grand prix.

Leclerc, who qualified P3, was running in third place when his SF-23 shut down on lap 41 of the 57-lap race to cries to “no, no” from the driver.

Ferrari launched a “full investigation”, concerns mounting given that prior to the race they had changed Leclerc’s Control Electronics and Energy Store having noted strange numbers coming from the data.

Alas Gene admits the five-time grand prix winner’s retirement looks to have been a combustion engine problem, not a simple wiring loom issue as had been speculated.

“We think not,” the former Ferrari test driver turned ambassador told the F1 Nation podcast when asked if Ferrari had a concerning reliability issue in the mix.

“It was the batteries we changed but it looks like the failure comes from the combustion engine.”

Asked why Ferrari had made changes prior to the grand prix, he said: “We saw something, some numbers let’s say, but we are quite sure.

“It had nothing to do what we changed, it was more like a precaution thing we change, and we were quite sure that it has nothing to do with what happened to Charles.”

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Leclerc was gutted at having lost out on his third place, 12 points available on the night, but Gene concedes 12 is all it would have been given the pace of the Red Bulls.

Max Verstappen took the win 12 seconds ahead of Sergio Perez with third placed Fernando Alonso a further 26s down.

“For us a podium would have been a very good result,” Gene said.

“Honestly it was looking good. Even at some point Charles was keeping up with the soft compound, which was the compound we were expecting the worst for us, and Charles was quite strong.

“Then we put the hard compound, we’re expecting it to be the good compound for us, and we were nowhere. What we saw in the pre- season testing we didn’t see today on the tyres.

“We were aiming for the podium, and I think Charles would eventually have got it, not with a margin but I think he would have had upped the pace, but so it was very disappointing to miss out both for Charles and then of course for Carlos.”

He reckons Ferrari can fight back at the next race at the Jeddah Corniche circuit as the track’s layout will suit the SF-23 with its straight-line speed.

” One another strong point for Ferrari is we are very fast on the straight,” said the Spaniard. “You could see we managed to defend from Aston from Mercedes. In the past Ferrari was very weak on that respect.

“For me Jeddah is very important because it’s a high-speed track. I think our cars should be very strong there. That’s my personal feeling.

“But yeah Red Bull… on qualifying we can be them, Charles could have gotten pole. But the tyre degradation is unbelievable. Today they were managing it.

“We know they’re hard to beat but it’s only the first of the 23, a long way to go.”

As another plus for Ferrari, Gene called their strategy gamble in qualifying where they opted not to send Leclerc out for a second run and instead save a set of soft tyres, “brave”.

“I think,” he said, “Ferrari has been brave you know with the double pit stop so I think Ferrari has been creative.

“I think the tyre allowed him to overtake Checo and pull away so I think what we did in qualifying was quite a brave move. The result doesn’t show it but I think after the first pit stop it was the right choice.”