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today is May 31, 2023

Ferrari’s first podium of 2023 was the product of a well executed weekend in Baku, but it also highlighted how large the team’s deficit to Red Bull is.

Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari on pole for the sprint race and Sunday’s grand prix in Azerbaijan. But he was helpless to resist the Red Bulls in the races once DRS was enabled.

Sergio Perez breezed past him to win the sprint race, with Max Verstappen only finishing behind due to sidepod damage he incurred in a collision with George Russell. Then in the grand prix both Red Bulls overtook Leclerc within a few laps of DRS being made available. By the end of the race, Leclerc had fallen over 20 seconds behind.

Ferrari’s team principal Frederic Vasseur after the grand prix took some encouragement from the team’s performance. “On one lap the pace was okay all weekend, and also thanks to Charles,” he said.

Vasseur also believes the performance difference between the teams was exaggerated because Ferrari were aiming to pit once while Red Bull planned a two-stop strategy.

“If you have a look on the last stint of the race, I think – but I’m not sure – that Red Bull was not planning to do two stints. They were pushing like hell from the beginning to the end.

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“We were convinced from the beginning that we will do one stint, and we are managing a lot at the beginning, it meant that we had probably a tyre advantage at the end. But overall they were faster than us, we don’t have to bullshit ourself.”

The area of car development that deficit stems from is not entirely clear to Vasseur, but he saw a trend with his cars around Baku, a track characterised by long straights and slow right-angled bends.

“So far what was of use [for building understanding] is that we are struggling with consistency. It’s a bit true this weekend, and all over the lap and all over the corners, and all over the race. I think the car was much more consistent this weekend and we are going in the right direction.”

Vasseur says Ferrari “have to pick up the pace and the confidence of the team” off the back of their first podium of 2023, four rounds into the season, and to continue in the development direction they have chosen. “We made the important choice in terms of technical approach over the last couple of weeks and it’s paying off today.”

However, even with upgrades that can bring improved pace, the deficit to the dominant Red Bull may not decrease.

“We were expecting to be in a better shape at the beginning and I don’t want to bullshit you. But what I’m very pleased with the reaction of the team, because we are never in a panic mode. After the first two events when it went [badly] – Jeddah was tough for us. But the reaction between Jeddah and Melbourne was a very good one.

“And the approach even on the development was never really in a panic or to change everything on the car. A complete ‘B car’ was not the plan, we were always focused to bring small update by small update to understand what we are doing first, to understand where we can improve the potential, reach the potential of the car first.

“I’m more than pleased with this kind of reaction, but for sure I would love to be in a better shape.”

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2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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