Ferrari still has 'quite a bit in the locker' - Leclerc

Charles Leclerc - Friday practice - Saudi Arabia - March 2023 © Ferrari
© Ferrari

Despite a rough opening day for Ferrari in Saudi Arabia, Charles Leclerc assured fans that there was was still plenty of reason for optimism heading into the second round of the 2023 season.

Leclerc retired from the Bahrain GP with a power unit issue, and has incurred a ten place penalty for Sunday's race after the team decided to add a third control electronics element to his pool of components.

On top of that, the Scuderia has opted to change the Internal Combustion Engine on the cars of both Leclerc and his team mate Carlos Sainz as a "further precaution", leaving fans anxious about the SF-23's reliability.

And today's practice outings weren't very encouraging on the raw performance front either, with Leclerc and Sainz only ninth and tenth at the end of Friday night's second session. But Leclerc insisted that this wasn't the full story.

"I don’t think we are that bad, honestly," he insisted in the post-practice media interviews conducted in the paddock at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

"The feeling is pretty good, but very difficult to read into the performance because everybody’s doing very different things with power, weight, etc. – probably more different than other years.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23. 17.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

"We tested some new parts today and everything works as expected. It’s difficult to get a sense of our competitiveness as everyone is on a different programme so far.

"So it’s a bit more difficult to read the Friday free practice sessions, but the feeling was quite okay and the race pace seems to be better than Bahrain, so that’s positive.

"We have quite a bit in the locker," he insisted. "How much, let’s see. I am sure Red Bull also have something still hidden so we’ll see tomorrow. But I think it will be closer than what it is for now.

"We will try to maximise our qualifying tomorrow, but given that we will have a ten-place grid penalty on Sunday, our main focus will be on making up those positions during the race."

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari. 17.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Ferrari's hopes of a strong start to the season took a blow with Leclerc's retirement in the season opener, while Sainz ended up losing a spot on the podium to a resurgent Fernando Alonso.

As a result Red Bull came away from the weekend with a maximum 43 points compared to Ferrari's 12. If the team is to mount a title challenge in 2023 it must stop its rivals pulling out an unbeatable lead so early in the year.

Leclerc's team mate was equally determined to to stay positive about their prospects, and similarly insisted that Ferrari's progress was going in the right direction.

"It was an intense day here in Jeddah," Carlos Sainz said. "This is a very unusual circuit with very peculiar characteristics which requires specific work to achieve a good balance.

Carlos Sainz - Friday practice - Saudi Arabia - March 2023 © Ferrari

© Ferrari

"I personally feel a bit closer than in Bahrain. Obviously, engine modes and the position today doesn’t reflect our true pace. In the long runs, we definitely look a bit more competitive, so I’m more positive going into the weekend.

"Red Bull are clear favourites, but in terms of pace and overall feeling, I feel a bit closer," he stated, admitting that it was unclear "if it’s enough to be in the podium or to battle the top; we will see on Saturday.

"There is still some performance to find, but in general the car feels in the right window," he said. "Race pace was decent and tomorrow we will focus on maximising the result during qualifying."

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