Despite the optimism after the end of Saturday’s qualifying, thanks also to Leclerc’s good lap which allowed him to finish in fourth place, a few hundredths behind the two MCL60s, at Ferrari it was clear that being able to beat McLaren over the long distance would be it was an arduous undertaking.
The predictions were confirmed and Ferrari had to settle for a fourth and sixth place with its two standard bearers. In fact, the Red Team’s best hope was not so much to beat the Woking team on pure tire degradation, but to try to overtake at least one of them at the start and then try to resist for as long as possible by also playing strategy.
However, when the traffic lights went out Charles Leclerc was the author of a slow start, which Ferrari explained via radio by underlining that it was not a procedural error on the part of the Monegasque, but rather something linked to the parameters that the team expected in grip terms.
Once the Safety Car period ended due to various accidents during the first laps, the Monegasque remained about a second and a half behind Oscar Piastri, who had meanwhile slipped to third position, at least before McLaren decided to recall the Australian to move to first set of hard. The new tire allowed Piastri to gain several seconds, opening up a decent margin, which Leclerc then tried to close by extricating himself from the traffic of Alonso and the two Alpines.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
After the two McLarens exchanged positions returning to the pre-stop situation, the Maranello team actually attempted something different on a strategic level, suggesting to Leclerc to start increasing the pace to bring himself back into a useful window to attempt an undercut . However, Piastri reacted promptly, improving their pace in turn, demonstrating how the McLaren driver with that hard tire still had a few tenths in his pocket to play for at the right time.
It was precisely at that moment that the Ferrarista realized that the McLarens were now definitively out of reach: “Today we achieved the maximum. At one point, I actually thought I could duel with the McLarens, but Lando started pushing and was faster than us. Oscar also started pushing at the end of the stint and was faster than us. Today we collected the most we could,” explained Leclerc.
Despite the excellent pace shown by the two MCL60s and the progress in the central part of the season, the driver of the Maranello team is not however worried, also because he was aware that the McLaren would have done well in Suzuka, a track that is well suited to the characteristics of the their vehicle. “Yes and no, because they were already very strong at Silverstone, on tracks of this type they go well. We know that they are tracks that go a lot with their car. Let’s now see if they are confirmed in Qatar. If they are confirmed, then it becomes a little more worrying, but for now I’m not worried.”
Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
“We know that on these types of tracks they are very fast, so it’s not a surprise. We certainly need to understand why in the first high-speed sector they are much faster than us, we will undoubtedly look at each other to understand.”
With the two MCL60s out of reach, Leclerc began to look over his shoulder, more specifically at the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who was around five seconds behind with ten laps to go. Although he therefore had a small margin of safety, the Monegasque still tried to get rid of George Russell as quickly as possible, given the fear that he might play as a team by trying to slow him down to get him closer to Hamilton. In that short period of time, in fact, the seven-time world champion was able to reduce the gap to around three seconds. In the end, a nice maneuver came out on the outside of turn two, which was decisive in getting back to imposing his own pace.
“It was important to do it at that time. Lewis was pushing hard, he was going fast, I expected them to work as a team to get him through straight away. So I knew I couldn’t waste that much time and I had managed the tires before too, so I had some rubber left. I knew I had to take a few more risks, but in the end it was a good overtaking,” explained Leclerc.