Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari. 24.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 23, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Practice Day.
Charles Leclerc has explained how becoming “more at ease” with Ferrari’s 2023 Formula 1 car inspired his upturn in form during the closing stages of the season.
Ferrari entered the season aiming to return to title contention after failing to sustain its early championship challenge across the second half of 2022 against Red Bull.
However, the Italian marque’s season was stymied by trouble getting on top of an unpredictable SF-23 car that saw the team slip to fourth in the standings at one stage.
Ferrari responded impressively to claim what would transpire to be the only non-Red Bull win of the year in Singapore, but that honour fell to Carlos Sainz rather than Leclerc.
Having trailed his team-mate since the summer break, the introduction of a revised floor provided the base for a resurgent run of form from Leclerc to the end of the season.
The Monegasque driver was the superior Ferrari in each of the remaining eight rounds, recording five consecutive front-row starts and three podium finishes to front Ferrari’s forlorn pursuit of Mercedes for second position in the Constructors’ Championship.
Expanding on how he had overcome his issues with Ferrari’s inconsistent package this season, Leclerc said in Abu Dhabi: “Well, it’s not been easy. I think we’ve had two parts of the season: we’ve had pre-Japan and post-Japan at least on my side.
“I feel much more at ease with the car since Japan. We’ve worked on the consistency of the car in different conditions which helped a lot my driving style.
“I like quite a lot to have an oversteery car and a strong front which in the first part of the season I couldn’t quite do that.”
However, Leclerc concedes that Ferrari, who will adopt a new car concept next season, has more ground to make up to become a consistent threat to Red Bull in race trim.
“But yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do obviously because especially into the race, with the tyres, everything depends on details that we need to get everything right and at the moment our car is not good enough and not consistent enough, especially on long runs so we are working on that,” he added.
Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing Charles Leclerc (FRA), Scuderia Ferrari 26.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 23, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Race Day.
Leclerc rounded out the season by ending up runner-up to World Champion Max Verstappen for the second consecutive race and was buoyed by Ferrari’s tyre degradation.
Despite qualifying second, 0.139s shy of the polesitter, Leclerc had been cautious that Ferrari’s struggles with overheating the tyres would leave it vulnerable to those behind.
“I think we were a bit more competitive than what we expected,” he admitted. “I think we expect to be a bit on the backfoot compared to Mercedes or McLaren, but I guess, apart from that, everything was as expected. I mean, Max was stronger as expected but we had quite good tyre management.
“We were expected to struggle mostly with overheating. That is normally one of our weaknesses. But today we did quite a good job on that.”
Asked whether that surprise provided him with renewed confidence heading into 2024, Leclerc replied: “I mean, depends for what. On one hand, it is good to finish a season like that. That gives me the confidence that, for next year, hopefully, we know more where we need to set-up our car and where the development needs to be done.
“On the other hand, there’s still a long way to go before getting to the Red Bull pace, especially in terms of race pace,” he continued. “So, on that we are all aware in the team that there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Keyword: Leclerc explains reasons behind late F1 2023 turnaround