Red Bull “giving up” qualifying speed to focus on F1 race pace

Charles Leclerc is so far the only non-Red Bull driver to snare a pole position this season, with the Monegasque topping both Friday and Saturday sprint shootouts in Azerbaijan.

He was also only 0.292s adrift of pole in the Bahrain opener before he retired with a power unit failure and then 0.155s short in Saudi Arabia qualifying prior to serving a grid penalty.

But Ferrari has only scored one podium this term, courtesy of Leclerc in Baku and its highest-place driver has finished on average 30.85s behind the race winner across the first five rounds.

Ferrari driver coach Jock Clear says this spread can be explained by reigning constructors’ champion Red Bull leaving the door open in qualifying as a trade-off to maximise race pace.

Asked to explain the comparative Ferrari drop off over a longer stint, Clear said: “We have a good understanding of where the issues lie. It’s quantifying it.

“So, in some ways, we would say, ‘OK, we’re looking at what’s going on in the race compared to what’s going on qualifying’. We can see some differences.

“Maybe what we can’t quite align is how those differences turn out. That’s the process that we’re going through at the moment, [it] is to identify what we can do, or what we can shift around in terms of our focus, to maybe bring that race pace back into line.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Clear reckons Ferrari might have to follow the lead of Red Bull by sacrificing some of its one-lap performance in order to improve its race day showing.

He continued: “Do we have to take a hit in qualifying? That’s always a very difficult pill to swallow because races are very often made in qualifying.

“So, we can’t afford to take our eye off the qualifying ball. But certainly, we need to fully understand how we can get the race pace.

“We have to take our hat off to the Red Bull and say they are doing something very, very clever. That car works very, very well in race pace.

“We might also conclude that to do so, maybe they are giving up some qualifying pace.

“That’s why we can compete with them because they’re not optimal in qualifying.”

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Asked to identify where Red Bull was leaving Ferrari behind, Clear said: “They are very, very quick along the straights, especially when the DRS is open.

“Again, we have to look at that, see what we can do better to shed that drag, because that’s free lap time.

“The driver doesn’t have to use too much skill to get from [one turn to another] as fast as possible. That’s clearly an area where they were very quick.”

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