No-one can deny that, so far, the 2023 F1 season hasn’t exactly worked out in the way that Ferrari hoped it would.
It was thought that the replacement of Mattia Bennetto with Frédéric Vasseur as team principle as well as the introduction of the SF-23 car would quickly pay dividends. However this has definitely not been the case and Colorado bettors are losing faith in Ferrari.
And, while Monza is arguably the key race in the calendar where Ferrari want to perform well in front of a home crowd, second to that must be Monaco. This is the event that even people who are not big fans of F1 tend to take an interest in, if only to spot the rich and famous watching the race from the decks of their superyachts.
However, the 2023 race symbolised perfectly many of the issues that Ferrari have faced during the first few months of the season – all of which they must try to eliminate if they want to put in a better performance in Monaco next May.
The season so far
The season started badly for the team in Bahrain with Carlos Sainz Jr. finishing a distant 4th some 48 seconds behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and Charles Leclerc retiring from the race due to electrical problems,
The Monegasque driver also failed to finish in Australia and the best position that he had achieved after eight of the 22 scheduled races in the season has been 3rd in Azerbaijan despite starting the race on pole.
To look at the team’s prospect for Monaco in 2023 let’s first examine how they performed in Monaco this year.
The twisting and winding road circuit is notorious for being especially tough both on cars and their drivers. Sainz Jr. and Leclerc started the race in 4th and 6th place respectively on the grid, the latter having a three-place penalty imposed for impeding Lando Norris in the third round of qualifying.
When it came to the race itself it was the set up of the SF-23 that let the team down more than anything. Everything from the suspension to the overall handling ensured that it was far from competitive – and the mid-race rain shower wasn’t much help either.
Given all of the above, Leclerc’s 6th place and Sainz Jr.’s 8th weren’t altogether surprising, and at least they both managed to earn a few points for themselves and the constructors’ championship.
So what’s to be done if Ferrari want to put on a better showing at the legendary circuit next year?
In Leclerc and Sainz Jr. they have two genuinely world-class drivers whose last season’s 2nd and 5th place finishes in the championship proved their class. So there’s no change needed in this department. But even the greatest drivers in the world can only perform as well as their car allows them too.
So it’s here, with the SF-23 or whatever proceeds it, that the real difference will be made. This is especially true for a circuit like Monaco with its unique features and challenges but luckily there’s plenty of scope for improvement in the car’s set-up.
It could be that the team at Maranello need to take what they’ve learned this season and go right back to the drawing board in designing a car ready for the 2024 season.
A particular problem that has been highlighted by the drivers this season has been the ability to operate competitively in the so-called “dirty air” in the slipstream of other cars. So aerodynamics are obviously going to be key.
Then there’s the suspension. There’s a feeling that this is one of many areas in which the Red Bull car has a clear advantage over all of the other constructors’ set-ups. But without getting it right too, Ferrari will never make its handling as sharp or their car as competitive as their rival’s.
The Red Bull question
Of course, the real elephant in the room is always going to be Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Just as they have seen off Mercedes, all the other teams currently seem light years behind them at the moment.
Even about a third of the way through this season Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by 69 points over his team-mate Perez. Red Bull are also way out in front of the constructors’ championship with almost double the points of Mercedes. Meanwhile Ferrari, lag behind in 4th place behind Aston Martin.
So there is an undoubted mountain to climb for Ferrari if they truly want to put on a good show in Monaco next year, but it’s also worth remembering that these are still early days for Frédéric Vasseur.
He may just need time to work with the team to try to bring some of the success he enjoyed with Alfa Romeo – a team with a fraction of the resources and expertise he now has at his disposal with Ferrari.