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Leclerc: Red Bull form a mystery after it hid potential in F1 testing

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says Red Bull’s true form remains a mystery, after its Formula 1 rival steered clear of a proper race run in last weekend’s pre-season test in Bahrain.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Erik Junius

Red Bull’s RB20 showed some impressive pace throughout the three days at Sakhir, but the team spent much of its time focusing on shorter stints rather than proper race simulations as many other teams did.

While Ferrari had some encouraging news about the performance of its own SF-24, especially during a strong race sim from Carlos Sainz on the second day, Leclerc remains cautious about reading too much into it.

Ferrari’s deeper analysis of the form of teams over the three days suggested that Red Bull elected not to show its hand and give rivals any clue about what its RB20 can really do.

Ranked: The F1 teams on 2024 pre-season testing form

Asked by Autosport whether Ferrari’s form in testing offered it a clue about its chances against Red Bull, Leclerc said: “The thing is that Red Bull is one of the only teams that didn't do a full race simulation during the test, which is normally what helps us to understand where we are exactly. So it's very difficult to know where they are.

“We did one. We know where we are obviously, and some of the [other] teams have done some race runs, so we have kind of an idea where they stand. But Red Bull is not the case.

“For now, it's impossible to understand where we are. However, it's a track we have been strong [at] in the past and I hope that we can challenge for the win. And if there's an opportunity, we'll do absolutely everything to take it.”

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

While the ultimate competitiveness of the Ferrari against Red Bull remains unclear for now, Leclerc said he was at least encouraged by the fact the Scuderia has had a much more encouraging build-up to the season than 12 months ago.

“Normally I'm a person that smiles, but last year it was very difficult to smile about anything because it was a very, very difficult test, probably the worst I've ever experienced in my Formula 1 career as nothing was going right,” he said.

“This year it's more in line with what we expected. But we shouldn't confuse driveability and competitiveness. The car is much more driveable for now. However, competitiveness, we still have to see.

“If I end up P5 or P6 at the end of the weekend, having maximised our result, probably the smile on my face won't be there anymore. But I hope that this won't be the case.”

Development path 

Leclerc reckoned that the potential to build on the early-season form was also much greater this year, since Ferrari already knows what it needs to focus on to improve the SF-24.

“We know exactly which are the areas that we need to work on for this year's car,” he explained. “That is looking positive for the future, because we can already start from now.

“The factory's already focused since last week, on points that we need to improve for the next few months, which is looking good for the future developments.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Erik Junius

“Then we have to see where is our starting point. For now, it's difficult to understand where we are compared to Red Bull as a base.”

One area that Leclerc said Ferrari had to especially improve was its performance in low-speed corners – which was a phenomenon he said was not unique to his team.

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“We have quite a bit of understeer at the moment, [and are] struggling to rotate the car,” he said. “I think this is a tendency around the paddock when I look at onboards, and I think everybody seems to be struggling with that.

“It's just which team of those is going to be the one least limited by this understeer in low-speed. And at the moment, we have a little bit of work to do on that.”

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