- Charles Leclerc will receive the first grid penalty for a power unit this season at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
- Despite the bad start for the Scuderia driver should fans still have hope for a great season ahead?
Charles Leclerc will receive the first grid penalty for a power unit this season at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Formula 1 places limits on the amount of engine unit components that teams can provide to their drivers over the course of a season. This system was put in place to prevent the larger teams from installing a new PU at nearly every race on the schedule.
Normally though, these penalties don’t start to matter until the season has really gotten going, but for Ferrari and Leclerc, their already difficult season has taken a further turn for the worst.
Because of the controversy at the season-opening race in Bahrain, Ferrari was already compelled to give Leclerc his third new unit of the year.
He had to take the penalty
Ferrari’s chances in Jeddah have been dealt a stinging blow by Leclerc‘s penalty. The team had been expected to improve after a lacklustre performance in Bahrain and pose a greater challenge to Red Bull, which won the season opener.
Leclerc will now have a lot of work to do just to reach the top ranks during the race as the high-speed Jeddah track, which is less taxing on the tyres than Bahrain, is expected to prove to be a stronger match for the SF-23.
Therefore, Ferrari will need Carlos Sainz, another Spaniard who drives for Ferrari, to put in a better effort. Sainz finished fourth in Bahrain after being passed by Fernando Alonso, another Spaniard who drives for Aston Martin, for the final podium slot.
Despite the bad start for the Scuderia driver should fans still have hope for a great season ahead?
We look at some of the reasons why they should.
The second-fastest team on the grid
With a time of 1:29.708, Max Verstappen took the pole in the Qualification. He outran Charles Leclerc by 0.292 seconds and Sergio Perez by 0.138 seconds.
But, Leclerc might have maybe sped up by two-tenths had he attempted a second lap on the soft tyres, so Ferrari supporters shouldn’t be too discouraged by that.
Helmut Marko estimates that a fresh set of soft tires would have given Leclerc an advantage.
Leclerc would have divided the Red Bull teammates after losing P2 to Perez after the Mexican driver’s second run.
However, even without his second run, Leclerc was more than three seconds faster than the highly praised Aston Martin, even when driven by Fernando Alonso.
In upcoming races, Ferrari should put up a decent battle for the front row.
Good calls from the Ferrari strategy team
Last season, a lot was written about Ferrari’s strategies, but not all of it was positive.
The Ferrari made a series of bad decisions, maybe none worse than the one to start Leclerc on wet tyres in a dry Interlagos qualifying.
Over the winter, it saw new team manager Fred Vasseur make adjustments, former director of strategy Inaki Rueda set up shop in Ferrari’s outlying Maranello garage, and Ravin Jain sat on the pit wall to manage a strategy on the race circuit.
At Jain’s direction, Ferrari made the qualifying call for Leclerc in the belief that his new soft tyres would give him an edge off the line over the Red Bulls, who started on used tyres.
That did, providing him with enough grip and speed to pass Perez but not Verstappen.
But, it is a step in the right way for Ferrari’s strategy staff.
Quick pit stops
While the Ferrari’s on-track performance might not have been as fast as the Red Bull’s, the Ferrari pit crew outperformed the Red Bull’s when the car was at a standstill.
Ferrari struggled with their pit stops last season, most notably botching Sainz’s stop in the Netherlands Grand Prix.
In an exclusive room of the simulator building at Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello, the Scuderia, led by chief engineer Diego Ioverno, practised 1,000 pit stops during the off-season.
Those training paid off in Bahrain when Ferrari and Leclerc had the fastest stop of 2.22 seconds. Max Verstappen of Red Bull was in second place at 2.25 seconds.
Ferrari actually had three of the top four steps, with Sainz’s team finishing third and fourth with 2.31 and 2.36 respectively.
Yet, Ferrari still has a ways to go before beating Red Bull’s 1.82-second pit stop in the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, which now holds the record.
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