The Italian outfit knows that its current weakness against Red Bull is in managing tyres over a race stint, with there being little to separate the two teams in single-lap qualifying form.
Despite making a breakthrough in unlocking better race pace in Australia, and grabbing pole position for Baku’s sprint and grand prix, the team was still no match for Red Bull over long runs last weekend.
However, it was a late surge from Leclerc in the grand prix, who was able to deliver the same pace as the runaway Red Bulls in the closing stages as he defended against Fernando Alonso, that raised some eyebrows.
This was something that even Max Verstappen spotted as he questioned Leclerc about it in the pre-podium driver room after the race.
A few laps from home Leclerc even put in the fastest lap of the race up until that point, showing that there was plenty of potential left in his tyres.
Although that late speed has prompted suggestions that Ferrari may be better off on its rubber than feared, team boss Fred Vasseur thinks the picture in Baku was blurred by tyre management tactics.
He thinks that, as Leclerc carefully managed tyres early after the safety car stop so they had more performance late on, Red Bull duo Sergio Perez and Verstappen pushed their rubber past their best by running flat out.
“If you look at the last stint of the race, I am not sure that Red Bull was not planning to do two [stops] as they were pushing like hell from the beginning to the end,” said Vasseur.
“But when we were convinced at the beginning that we’d do one stint, and we’d manage a lot at the beginning, it meant we really had a tyre advantage at the end. Overall they were faster than us, and we don’t have to bullshit ourselves.”
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Leclerc said he had deliberately taken things easy after the pitstop during the safety car period to better look after tyres, having paid the price for pushing too hard in the sprint when he tried to chase down eventual winner Sergio Perez.
“We have to [look after the tyres] with our car, otherwise we kill them, and then we cannot get them back,” he explained. “This has a big influence on our performance. I think we did the perfect management but we are just not quick enough.
“Whether we lack at the beginning of the stint, or at the end of the stint, this we can change but we just don’t have enough performance for…
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