Looking for a reason to get excited about the new F1 season? Try Ferrari

By | March 20, 2024

I know, it’s been a tough start to the new Formula 1 season if you’re anything but a Red Bull fan. And let’s be honest, I probably wasn’t all that fun, even if you are.

But for those looking for something to hold on to in the hope of more competitive times ahead, there are some encouraging signs from the first two races that deserve some recognition.

Sure, Max Verstappen has taken two comfortable wins from pole position, and Sergio Perez has supported him with second place every time, even if so far it has always been Charles Leclerc starting on the front row, but Ferrari is getting closer to Red Bull. .

Think back 12 months and the competitive picture was very different. Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso took podium finishes in each of the first three races – and six of the first eight – “because other teams underperformed,” as team boss Mike Krack put it.

It’s hard not to agree with him. McLaren was absolutely nowhere at the start of 2023, while Mercedes and Ferrari were both trying to overpower difficult cars. For Mercedes it was an extension of the problems the team has faced since the introduction of the new regulations, but for Ferrari it was slightly more unexpected after a strong start last year.

Bahrain obviously should have delivered a podium last season, but Leclerc suffered reliability problems and lost third place. That also led to a grid penalty that dropped him from the front row to twelfth in Jeddah, but Carlos Sainz started fourth and was right in the mix.

However, last year’s Ferrari was temperamental, especially in the first half of the year. Although the timing of the Safety Car in Saudi Arabia last season did not play into the Scuderia’s hands, it did leave a 30-lap run to the flag, where Sainz had started fifth, dropped to sixth and almost 36 seconds behind the race winner. Perez.

For the sake of comparison, it is also fair to suggest that if Verstappen had started on pole position (as he did this year) rather than 15th due to driveshaft failure, the gap could well have been wider. Perez performed excellently and had an answer to Verstappen’s threat in the second half of that race, but it was the Dutchman who got more out of the RB19.

This time both Verstappen and Leclerc enjoyed much smoother weekends in Jeddah. Verstappen took pole and was never threatened, while Leclerc was third behind Perez and had a solitary run to the flag. There was also a Safety Car, but one that was released at the end of lap 9, so the sample set consisted of 41 laps of clean driving instead of 30.

Ferrari is not yet ready to compete with Red Bull every weekend, but the team has been on a good trajectory since last year’s Dutch GP. Stupid Romney/Motorsport Images

In that context, Leclerc’s final deficit of 18.6 seconds, and also the fastest lap, is real reason to be more optimistic.

Halving the gap should be taken more as a general sign given all the differences between the two races, but the direction Ferrari has taken since last year’s Dutch Grand Prix is ​​clearly the right one. Leclerc himself has said that momentum has grown since then and that the team has understood what it needs to work on from Zandvoort.

He has achieved that this year with a car with more complaints, which also seems to be a stronger all-rounder. Ollie Bearman’s impressive debut is not only a great sign for the 18-year-old, it’s also a testament to Ferrari’s 2024 car that the rookie was able to step in and feel comfortable enough to push the limit almost immediately.

Moreover, Jeddah was probably never Ferrari’s strongest track this season, although Bahrain might have expected it to be more competitive. So there’s still a lot to learn about where it could end up closest to Red Bull.

Considering that it took until after the summer holidays last year for the Scuderia to understand where to focus and how to make this generation of cars work, then it wouldn’t be completely crazy to hope for the current level of improvement. Get on. After all, Ferrari finished third in the constructors’ championship last season and therefore has more wind tunnel and CFD time at its disposal than Red Bull to develop this car, and seems to have a reliable idea of ​​how to do that.

All this does not explain McLaren’s much better starting position than a year ago. Under Andrea Stella, McLaren was confident that it would make big steps in 2023 and that has happened. This year the company has also promised more performance following the car’s first major upgrades, with the aim of competing alongside Ferrari for the right to be Red. Bull’s biggest threat.

I know, I’m grasping at straws, but even amid last year’s immense dominance, the races where Verstappen was really pushed by the likes of Leclerc or Lando Norris were much more fun. Las Vegas was a particular highlight at a circuit that worked for Ferrari, and Singapore showed that Red Bull can also be wrong.

Simply closing the gap over a race distance – as Ferrari appears to have done so far – opens up the possibility of more occasions where Red Bull will be threatened if it doesn’t perform perfectly.

Perhaps the only team not speaking as confidently as they did during preseason is Mercedes. The team is still unable to drive the W15 in a way that allows it to achieve the performance it claims is within the concept. That’s been an ongoing battle since 2022 that has yet to be resolved, requiring experiments to be conducted this weekend to try to understand where we should go from here.

But with Ferrari and McLaren in better form and continuing to move in the right direction, there is a little more confidence that we will see really competitive racing at the front at certain times this season.

(Hey, I said a little…)

The story originally appeared on Racer

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