Charles Leclerc attributed his improved performance with Ferrari during the final stages of the F1 season to his comfort with the Scuderia’s car, but insists there’s still a long way to go for the latter to match Red Bull’s race pace.
The Italian team had entered the season with high expectations, hoping to build on their promising 2022 campaign and challenge for the championship.
However, Ferrari’s progress was hindered by the unpredictable nature of the SF-23, but its response was impressive as the team managed to secure the only non-Red Bull victory of the season in Singapore.
However, it was Carlos Sainz, rather than Leclerc, who emerged victorious.
Leclerc's form began to improve following the introduction of a revised floor at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, which provided a more stable platform for the car.
The Monegasque outperformed his teammate in the remaining eight races of the season, securing five consecutive front-row starts and three podium finishes.
His strong performance helped Ferrari close the gap to Mercedes in the constructors' championship.
“It’s not been easy,” he explained last weekend at Yas Marina. “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.”
Leclerc wrapped up his season at Yas Marina with a solid second place finish behind Verstappen thanks in part to good tyre management, with no overheating issues to report.
“We were expected to struggle mostly with overheating,” he said. “That is normally one of our weaknesses. But today we did quite a good job on that.”
Asked if this boded well for next season, the 26-year-old said: "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.
"On that we are all aware in the team that there's still a lot of work to do.
"It's so much up and down. We've got races where we were definitely the second fastest cars, other races where maybe we were the fourth or fifth fastest car, so it was really up and down.
"But I believe that since Japan, when we brought an upgrade to the car, it went in the right direction, especially for my driving style.”