Ferrari’s fears heading into the new Formula 1 season were laid bare in Austrian GP qualifying as Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel both suffered, finishing only seventh and 11th on a disappointing Saturday.
The Scuderia, F1’s most successful team and Mercedes’ main challengers in recent seasons, have been playing down expectations throughout the weekend as they await major upgrades on their car, which hasn’t been updated since a problematic pre-season testing back in February.
But even Vettel admitted he was “surprised” by the lack of Ferrari pace after failing to even make it through to Q3 in the first qualifying of F1 2020.
It is the first time the German, who will be leaving the team at the end of the season, has exited Q2 on pace alone during his Ferrari career.
And at least one driver from Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Racing Point out-qualified Leclerc in the lead Ferrari.
Leclerc, who was audibly frustrated on team radio, was almost a second slower than Austria pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas.
While Mercedes and Red Bull have brought plenty of upgrades to the cars, Ferrari’s is the same one which struggled at Barcelona testing.
But why’s that?
Having focused on straight-line speed last season, Ferrari – following a controversial engine settlement with the FIA – opted for a different approach for F1 2020 and debuted a much-changed car back at testing.
However, Ferrari felt they were well off the pace compared to Mercedes and Red Bull in Barcelona.
With the coronavirus crisis leading to F1 pushing back their radical rule changes for 2021 – meaning there will be few changes to the current cars for two seasons – Ferrari decided to alter their strategy again.
They confirmed prior to the Austrian GP that they were working on a “significant change of direction” in development for their SF1000, although their upgrades won’t be ready until the Hungarian GP, the third race of the season in two weeks’ time.
So that means their Barcelona spec is now their Austria spec.
And the two races in Spielberg will be very difficult judging by their qualifying performance.
Sebastian Vettel: “Of course it’s a surprise, we thought we had a little bit more in hand but it seems the others were probably running a little bit more fuel or were more conservative in practice.
“I wasn’t so happy with the car, more oversteer in entry than I would like.
“But we will see, I think tomorrow is a different picture. It’s a long race, I think in race trim we are always better and we will try to make some good ground and score some good points.”
Charles Leclerc: “It’s not an easy qualifying for us. Unfortunately that’s where we are at the moment.
“We need to stay positive in these moments that are very hard to find any positives. I think this is the way forward to work properly and to try and get out of these hard times.
“Yes it’s difficult, but we need to work as a team and hopefully be as strong as possible tomorrow to try and cheer everyone up.”
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