Ferrari Disappoints Again: What Went Wrong in Saudi Arabia?
Updated: Mar 23
Written by Juan Arroyo, Edited by Sameena Khan
The Scuderia have struggled to find their feet after two rounds. What looked like a promising weekend after Friday turned out not so sweet after all.
Ferrari had high hopes of improvement after a disappointing start to the season in Bahrain. Still, Ferrari's ambition was quickly destroyed as they struggled again in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The team showed promise in Friday practice, sitting ahead of Aston Martin and Mercedes on race pace simulations but still trailing Red Bull.
Though qualifying simulations left something to be desired, the team's data suggested improvement was on the horizon for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Leclerc was cautiously optimistic after the practice sessions in Saudi Arabia, stating that although the team was not performing poorly, it was difficult to accurately assess their performance due to the differences in how teams tested their cars.
However, Leclerc noted that the feeling was good, and the race pace seemed better than in the Bahrain testing.
Qualifying rolled around, and, despite the optimistic outlook within the team, Sainz struggled to keep up with the leaders.
The Spaniard had a challenging qualifying session in Saudi Arabia, failing to get a good first run in Q2 and forcing him to use an extra set of soft tires to secure a spot in Q3.
With only one new set of tyres left for the final session, Sainz could only manage the fifth-fastest time on the grid. This put him behind the impressive performances of Fernando Alonso and George Russell, who out-qualified the Ferrari driver.
"I was expecting myself to be in the fight, and for one reason or another that I still need to analyse, I wasn’t. So, a disappointing day but still, tomorrow is the day,” said Sainz after qualifying on the front row beside George Russell.
Leclerc's performance on Saturday night left a bittersweet taste as well. Despite being only 0.155s behind Sergio Perez's pole time, the Ferrari driver was handed a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday's race due to taking engine parts beyond his allocation. As a result, Leclerc had to start the race from 12th on the grid.
The Ferrari driver promptly expressed his concerns about Red Bull’s pace: "On the one hand, I’m really, really happy with my lap; it was really on the limit, so on that, I’m very happy.
"On the other hand, it seems that Red Bull is really on another planet right now, so we really have to work to catch up because even on a track like this, they seem to be much quicker than we are.”
Ferrari's drivers struggled to match the pace of their rivals in Sunday's race in Saudi Arabia. Tyre degradation was cited as a significant issue, suggesting that the SF-23's struggles with excessive wear in Bahrain were not a one-off.
Front tyres are seen as a limitation in Jeddah, and Ferrari struggled with overheating throughout the Grand Prix.
After the race, Carlos Sainz emphasised the SF-23’s need for clean air to produce a decent lap time and highlighted how they tend to overheat the tires when following other cars.
Despite their efforts, Ferrari is still experiencing more tyre degradation than Mercedes and Aston Martin. Sainz cited wear, balance, and dirty air when following as the reasons for their current struggles.
Sainz also believes the team still lacks pure race pace, as evidenced by their performance on hard tyres during the last stint.
Although Mercedes and Aston Martin were only a few tenths faster than Ferrari, the Red Bull team had a significant advantage at the beginning of the stints, which continued to widen as the race continued.
"It's difficult to take positives when you are P6 and P7, especially the last stint when you are all fair and square in pace… and they [the top three drivers] all pulled away. So it’s difficult to take a positive. Yeah, at least we got the reliability and the double points, but [this is] not where we want to be right now."
A Safety Car was deployed after Lance Stroll retired on lap 17, which hindered both Ferrari cars during the race. The timing of the Safety Car could not have been worse for the team, as they had just brought both Leclerc and Sainz into the pits.
Leclerc had started on softs, while Sainz was aiming to overtake Stroll before he retired at the turn 13 hairpin. The safety car dashed their strategies, and they were left lagging behind the Red Bull of Verstappen, who swiftly overtook the group running behind race leader Sergio Pérez.
Overall, a tough weekend for Ferrari, who have their work cut out before the next race in Melbourne.
Despite the promising signs in practice and qualifying, the team must sort out their struggles with tyre wear and overheating even to consider challenging Red Bull this year.
There is still much to be done back at Maranello if they want to fight for a title soon.