Saudi F1 struggles show Ferrari not second best, says Sainz

Ferrari’s poor late performance in Formula 1’s 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix now “proves” the team “lacks a bit of race pace” and is not second fastest, reckons Carlos Sainz.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

The Spaniard finished some 36 seconds adrift of Red Bull victor Sergio Perez in Jeddah to clock sixth place, one spot ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc - who was recovering from a 10-place gird drop.

That penalty was earned for a change of the control electronics unit after Leclerc retired from the Bahrain season-opener, while Sainz was fourth a fortnight ago as Ferrari struggled with its tyres.

Initially the team attributed the extreme degradation to the abrasive Bahrain circuit, but the SF-23 duo’s inability in Saudi Arabia to move forward on hard tyres during the final stint has now left Sainz in no doubt that the car has a more fundamental pace deficit.

Sainz said: “The last stint on the hard [tyres] proves that we are not where we want to be, that we still deg more than the Mercedes, that we still deg more than the Aston Martins. We lack a bit of race pace.”

Given the SF-23’s low drag aero concept and top speed advantage in Bahrain, Ferrari had anticipated being second fastest behind Red Bull at the flowing and fast Saudi street track.

The actual performance left Sainz “surprised” and he is now clear in his mind that car upgrades rather than simple set-up tweaks will be required to fight Perez and Max Verstappen.

His reaction to the race was: “[I’m] a bit surprised because after Friday and before the weekend, I thought that we had a chance of being the second force here in Jeddah.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, makes a pit stop

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, makes a pit stop

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

“But I think that last stint on the hard proves that we still have a lot of work to do, that we have a weakness in the race and that we need to wait for the developments to come to see if we can improve that weakness.”

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Understanding Ferrari’s early struggles compared to its rapid start in 2022, Sainz said the team could no longer consider its subdued showing in Bahrain to be track specific.

Instead, whether in clean or dirty air, Ferrari was ‘eating the tyres alive’.

He continued: “I think this is a key, which it's an unfortunate, but it's key to know that.

“Right now, we're not where we want to be in terms of race pace, in terms of car in general the balance even in dirty air following.

“We just struggled a bit, and if we already overheat the tyres in clean air then imagine following: we just eat them alive.

“We need clean air to produce some kind of decent lap times. We know exactly our weaknesses. This is a positive. Now, obviously, we cannot do magic to bring the developments early.

“But I know the team is pushing flat out to bring them and this will improve our race pace, for sure.”

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