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Ferrari’s F1 flaws all the more baffling after shock success at Le Mans

Ferrari marked their 50-year return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a shock victory based off car reliability and straight-line speed – can someone tell their F1 team to follow suit at this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix?

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Thursday 15 June 2023 13:16 BST
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Ferrari Team Principal Frederic Vasseur Admits They Are ‘Struggling’

Seven races into the Formula 1 season and the moment has finally arrived. You can only bypass the trials and tribulations for so long before the tomfoolery of the sport’s most prestigious team must be dissected, head on.

It’s time to talk about Ferrari.

To say the 2023 campaign thus far has been underwhelming for the Scuderia would be in itself an understatement. Zero wins. Only one podium – in Baku – and even that was from a pole position start. Last time out in Barcelona, Charles Leclerc qualified a dismal 19th, failing to recover to a points-finish on Sunday. Carlos Sainz qualified second but could only manage fourth on raceday.

Yet what makes Ferrari’s current infamy in motorsport’s most famous competition more baffling is their display in motorsport’s most famous endurance race. Because, returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend for the first time in 50 years, Ferrari turned all predictions upside-down with a shock victory.

Spearheaded by British driver James Calado, alongside former F1 star Antonio Giovvinazzi and Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ferrari took their 10th Le Mans win and first in 58 years. It was a thrillingly impressive performance, beating favourites Toyota, in front of a sold-out 300,000 crowd at the centenary event.

And what was it based on? Top-notch reliability, a clear-cut strategy throughout and straight-line speed, which made the difference over the course of 342 laps.

Can Ferrari’s F1 team take note?

All the more, Leclerc was present in the garage in Le Mans, alongside F1 boss Fred Vasseur. How they must have both felt, seeing Ferrari’s best moment of 2023 so far play out in an endurance car as opposed to an F1 car.

“It feels absolutely amazing, especially having a Ferrari winning,” Leclerc said afterwards. “I was here to support and I’m really happy that Ferrari won. It was an incredible experience.”

British driver James Calado (centre) was part of the Ferrari team which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans (Getty Images)
Ferrari were surprise victors in their first appearance at Le Mans for 50 years (Getty Images)

Rewind a week and Leclerc was not so chirpy. “I don’t have the answer,” he exclaimed after his Q1 exit in Spain. What’s more, after the car returned to the factory in Maranello, a further sense of disconcertment. No obvious problem was identified.

For a car that has thrived on Saturdays and struggled on Sundays, this was a discernible step backwards: a sense of direction that has been in motion for 12 months now.

Ferrari’s last win in Formula 1 was in Austria, last July. 18 races have come and gone since then, with all but one won by Red Bull. This season, they trail Christian Horner’s team by 187 points already, languishing in fourth place.

The point in time when Leclerc was a championship challenger seems a distant memory now. It’s hard to believe how far the Prancing Horse has fallen since his two wins from three to open up the 2022 season. The hope and realisation that the sport’s most famous team – who have not won a drivers’ title in 16 years, their longest-ever drought – were very much back in the top-end running was palpable. However, such potential has fallen off a cliff.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have endured frustrating starts to the 2023 F1 season (Getty Images)

No change of the team principal, with Vasseur replacing the harshly axed Mattia Binotto in the off-season, has altered the stagnation. The Frenchman, too, is at a loss to explain the lack of consistency and progression.

“We have 1,000 people [working] on this now and it is very difficult to understand and to fix it because it’s not always the same problem,” Vasseur said in Spain. When the boss is struggling to understand the issues at hand, there is a very tangible problem.

Longer-term, you do wonder how long Leclerc’s patience in particular will last. The 25-year-old was linked with Mercedes last month, in a swap deal for Lewis Hamilton, which seemed as fanciful then as it does now, with the Brit on the verge of signing a new deal. Leclerc’s anger in 2022 of the situation with his beloved team has now turned almost to an acceptance: an acceptance that ‘something has gone wrong… again… and we don’t how to fix it.’

And ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix this weekend, who knows what Ferrari will turn up in Montreal? The media don’t. The tifosi fans don’t. But, most concerningly of all, the team don’t either.

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