Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were off the pace for Ferrari in both of Friday’s practice sessions at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix; Both Ferraris have taken new power
units in Jeddah; Watch Saudi Arabian GP final practice live on Saturday at 1.30pm on Sky Sports F1
Last Updated: 17/03/23 10:07pm
Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz remain optimistic over their chances at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix despite the team’s ongoing engine concerns.
It had been confirmed earlier in the week that Leclerc would be taking a 10-place grid penalty in Jeddah after technical issues at the season-opener in Bahrain saw him retire and use up each of the two control electronics systems that each driver is permitted for the campaign, but more bad news was to follow.
Shortly after Friday’s opening practice session began, the FIA confirmed both Ferraris had also taken new power units, which will not instantly cause any further penalties but could lead to infringements later in the season, and is a concerning reflection on the team’s confidence in its reliability.
With the new power units in place, they then delivered an underwhelming display on a track where most had expected them to be far closer to early-season pacesetters Red Bull than had been the case in Bahrain.
Sainz’s seventh in first practice was their highest placing of the day, with Leclerc finishing ninth, a place ahead of his team-mate in the second session, in which the night-time conditions mirror those that Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race will take place in.
The fact that the Ferraris were almost a second back from reigning world champion Max Verstappen led to suspicions that they had been operating with their engines turned down, which Leclerc confirmed after the session.
“I don’t think we are that bad,” Leclerc said.
“Honestly, the feeling is pretty good but very difficult to read into the performance because everybody is doing different things with power, weight etc.
“But the feeling was quite okay, and the race pace seems to be better than Bahrain so it’s positive.
“We have quite a bit in the locker. How much? Let’s see.
“I’m sure Red Bull still has something hidden, so we’ll see tomorrow but I think it will be closer than what it is for now.”
Even with Ferrari’s engines running below full capacity, Leclerc complained during second practice over apparent issues, but insisted afterwards that “there was nothing wrong”.
“There were a few moments where I upshifted on kerbs which doesn’t put the engine in the best situation, so I complained just to make sure that everything was fine.”
Sainz: ‘Our position today doesn’t reflect our true pace’
Sainz had said on Thursday that Ferrari were in a “bad situation”, and confirmation that he was also taking a new engine on Friday added context to those comments.
The Spaniard, who shoulders Ferrari’s hopes of challenging Red Bull – and beating Aston Martin and Mercedes – given Leclerc’s grid penalty, was also optimistic regarding the car’s pace.
“I feel closer than Bahrain,” said Sainz, who finished fourth behind the Red Bulls and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in the season-opener.
“Our position today doesn’t reflect our true pace.
“We look competitive in the long runs so I am more positive going into the weekend.
“Red Bull are clear favourites but Aston Martin and Mercedes are there with us in terms of pace.
“The overall feeling, I feel closer. If it’s enough to be on the podium or battle at the top we will see on Sunday.”
‘Ferrari will be in the fight for pole’
Sky Sports F1’s Karun Chandhok said he expects Ferrari to be in the fight for pole on Saturday, despite admitting their start to the season has been far from ideal.
“Their fans took a lot of beating last year and everyone was hoping this year was going to start differently, and it hasn’t so far,” Chandhok said.
“I do think Ferrari were holding back. I do think with all the reliability concerns they’ve got, they haven’t turned the engines up as much as they’d like on a Friday.
“I expect them, certainly in qualifying, to be right in the fight for pole position. What happens in the race, we’ll see as time unfolds.
Sky Sports F1’s Damon Hill added: “It’s a shame, isn’t it? You can build the nicest car in the world but if it hasn’t got a motor, it doesn’t go anywhere.”
Formula 1 street racing is back! Watch the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race are live at 5pm. Get Sky Sports