Charles Leclerc is encouraged for Ferrari after seeing Yuki Tsunoda’s strong Brazilian GP sprint performance on new soft tyres, but could engine management issues prove to be their downfall?
On the face of it, Ferrari delivered a decent performance in the Interlagos sprint, Leclerc harrying Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and eventually getting his reward as he passed the seven-time World Champion to finish P5.
However, 28.5 seconds off sprint winner Max Verstappen at the end of the 24-lap event, such a figure is undoubtedly concerning for Ferrari.
Charles Leclerc takes hope from Yuki Tsunoda
Leclerc admitted that Ferrari has a major challenge on their hands to understand the swing in performance they suffer between qualifying and racing action, as the SF-23 goes from being competitive enough to claim pole, to then being far off the winning race pace.
“The race pace wasn’t too bad if we compare it to Mercedes,” Leclerc told Sky F1, “but if we compare it to McLaren, Lando Norris was extremely quick, the Red Bulls were extremely quick.
“So we’ve got a lot of work to do in race pace because there’s something missing there and I don’t quite understand what it is for it to be so similar in qualy, and so far away in the race.
“And this is where our main focus is at the moment. Short term, but also long term because what we are seeing is big, so we need to focus on that.”
Leclerc and team-mate Carlos Sainz contested the sprint on used softs, while Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri was impressing on a new set of that compound, the Japanese racer also passing Hamilton as he scored a P6 finish.
So, with Ferrari now having that new set of softs in reserve for the Grand Prix, Tsunoda’s performance was a positive indication for Leclerc.
“I think the pace of Yuki encourages me,” said Leclerc. “Seeing that he was on a new soft, we expected them to not have the same pace as us, but with a new soft he was very similar to our pace.
“So I think it was a good choice.”
Lift and coast requirement a worry for Ferrari
However, any strong race pace Ferrari may find could be all for nothing if they do not get their engine management issues sorted, Sainz admitting the necessity to lift and coast, from as early as lap 4, meant he did not get the opportunity to push in his SF-23.
P8 then was the best he could manage as he crossed the line four-tenths behind Hamilton.
“We’ve definitely gone into today saving as many tyres as possible for tomorrow, so today was always going to be a tricky day,” said Sainz.
“But for sure what we didn’t expect was to manage the temperatures of the engine as much and we did so much lift and coast that we lost a lot of time today.
“I hope that tomorrow is better. I couldn’t push all race today, so hopefully tomorrow we can push a bit more.”
If those issues persist into Grand Prix Sunday, then Sky F1 pundit Karun Chandhok fears for Ferrari, who he does not believe could really take the fight to their rivals if such extensive engine management is still required.
“I think the bigger concern for me is what’s going on with the lift and coast,” he said.
“As early as lap 4, they were told to bring the temperatures down, Carlos was being told to lift 350 metres. He was doing about 180, 200 and they kept telling him to do more and more lifting, which is bizarre.
“How can they fight with anyone?”
Ferrari are in a battle with Mercedes to secure P2 in the Constructors’ Championship, the Scuderia trailing Mercedes by 24 points going into the Grand Prix.