Charles Leclerc lies a distant seventh in the standings, and his Miami Grand Prix qualifying crash was his third in the space of eight days.
But Ferrari are taking encouragement from the fact he now feels able to push their car to – and beyond – its limits.
Both Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr have spoken about their struggles with the Ferrari SF-23. The car can perform: Leclerc put it on pole in Baku for the sprint race and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix before finishing second and third in the weekend’s two races.
But one consistent piece of feedback, and an element of car handling that has been a struggle for other teams too, is the ‘peakiness’ of the car’s behaviour even when it has the pace to be the fastest in the field over a single lap.
Leclerc’s performance engineer Jock Clear explained to media at the Miami Grand Prix why such handling characteristics is an issue with the current era of ground effect cars, how the development direction that teams took for 2023 has influenced the extent of that issue in their designs for this season, and why Leclerc’s crashes may be consequential of the team making progress in reducing the peakiness of the SF-23.
Like their rivals, Ferrari have had to get to grips with changes to the parts of the floor height during the off-season. “Of course, the height of the floor relative to the ground is a huge influence on the whole package of downforce,” explained Clear. “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.”
Ferrari brought their latest floor update to last weekend’s race. “We’ve seen a couple of evolutions of the floor for this car this year, pretty much focused in the same area: 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 under the into the diffuser area.
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“The changes are quite subtle. If you’re looking for the changes, they’re going to be quite difficult to spot. But actually in aerodynamic terms they’re quite powerful. So 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.”
Despite being the only team to beat Red Bull in single-lap pace so far this year, Ferrari lie fourth in the…