F1: Charles Leclerc hopes Ferrari can build on Azerbaijan GP – but race pace needs improvement

Charles Leclerc was happy to see an improved showing from Ferrari at last weekend’s Azerbaijan GP but admits that there is still work to do if they want to compete with Red Bull.

The Monegasque pilot once again demonstrated his devastating single-lap pace in Baku. On Friday, he claimed a fantastic pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix. Leclerc then followed this up on Saturday morning by taking pole for the Sprint race, too.

However, the race pace of his Ferrari SF-23  was no match for the might of the Red Bulls. Leclerc thus conceded first in the sprint to Sergio Perez on Saturday, finishing second. During Sunday’s GP, both Max Verstappen and Perez beat Charles Leclerc, who managed to finish third in Azerbaijan.

Overall, this was a much more positive showing from Leclerc and the Scuderia. He registered his first significant points haul of 2023 after finishing just one of the first three races. The 25-year-old is now up to sixth in the standings.

Charles Leclerc reflected on his Azerbaijan GP weekend in the post-race press conference.

Charles Leclerc: Ferrari “maximised every session” of Azerbaijan GP

When asked if his qualifying pace meant that Ferrari were closing in on Red Bull, Leclerc still had his reservations.

“Maybe a little bit [closer],” he said, via FIA. “But we’re still very far behind in terms of race pace at least. And also, I think that we are behind Aston Martin in terms of race pace. So, we really need to work on that.

“Over one lap, taking a bit more risk, of course, I also did two great laps – I think – in qualifying, which helped us to be in front. But then, over 51 laps, there is not much more we can do.”

Despite being outmatched over a grand prix distance, Leclerc insisted that Baku was a building block for Ferrari.

“The thing we should be happy about after a weekend like this is that we’ve maximised every session. I don’t think we could have done any better in any of those sessions. So, that is a positive – but there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of race pace.

“The bottom line is we are just not quick enough.”

Why can’t Ferrari match Red Bull in the race?

One of Ferrari’s difficulties in the race is tyre wear. The SF-23 has shown a tendency to eat through its rubber quicker than those around it, an issue that it inherited from its predecessor in 2022.

In particular, the high fuel loads ran during grand prix exacerbate this issue. So, over prolonged stints, the Scuderia can end up worse off, which affects performance and hampers pit-stop strategies.

However, following troubles with Bahrain’s abrasive surface in the opening round, Ferrari may have improved their tyre woes. Australia saw an improvement overall, and the issue did not cause significant difficulties in Baku.

Ferrari’s tyre degradation was still a problem, albeit manageable, for Charles Leclerc in the Azerbaijan GP.

“We have to [manage tyres] with our car otherwise we kill them,” he said. “And then we cannot get them back and this has a big influence on our performance. I think we did the perfect management today. But again, as I said, we are not quick enough.

“Whether we lack at the beginning of the stint or at the end of the stint, we just don’t have enough performance right now.”

Nevertheless, Leclerc and his teammate Carlos Sainz will feel better following Baku. Next weekend’s Miami Grand Prix is another track where preserving tyres is paramount, though.

So, the question now is whether Ferrari can find the balance between one-lap pace and tyre management in Florida.

Featured image credit: Getty