McLaren and Red Bull out of reach

No Ferrari resurrection in Barcelona: The Scuderia was more or less in the fight for the top spot all weekend long, and Carlos Sainz’s FP3 best time gave pole hopes a boost. But in qualifying, the decisive tenths of a second were missing. In the end, Charles Leclerc and Sainz only finished in fifth and sixth place – and thus not only behind Lando Norris and Max Verstappen, but also behind both Mercedes cars.

Leclerc, the faster of the two Ferrari drivers in Q3, was around three and a half tenths of a second behind Norris’ pole time. “I’m very disappointed with today because the performance isn’t there and we’re too far away from pole,” Leclerc made no secret of his feelings after qualifying.

Vasseur criticizes Leclerc: Mistake cost P3

At least a start from the second row would be possible considering the very close times of Mercedes and Ferrari, however, would have been quite possible. Leclerc was only three hundredths of a second behind Lewis Hamilton in P3. “There wasn’t much more pace in the car. We just struggled with the grip and the pace overall,” said Leclerc.

Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur, however, did not see the situation as clearly as his driver – and hinted at criticism of the Monegasque: “At the end of the day, we delivered a good session today. Charles made a small mistake and as a result we gave up P3.”

Ferrari team boss Frederic Vasseur in the paddock
Frederic Vasseur criticised a mistake by Leclerc after qualifying, Photo: LAT Images

Sainz: Red Bull and McLaren turned up the heat in Q2

But even without a mistake by Leclerc, the hunt for pole would probably have been in vain. The large gap to Norris and Verstappen is also worrying because Leclerc himself said he generally felt comfortable in the car after a difficult training Friday (FP1 without a full update package): “We changed a lot of things in the car today. I immediately felt more comfortable in FP3. But the pace is just not there.”

Unlike Leclerc, his teammate Sainz had been consistently at the top of the field on Friday. The local hero finished all three practice sessions in the top three, and even finished the last hour of practice on Saturday in first place. But appearances were deceptive. “We had strong practice sessions and expected to be in the fight for pole. But immediately in Q2, when Red Bull and McLaren turned up the heat, we didn’t have the pace,” said a disappointed Sainz.

Given the considerable gap to the pole time, the 29-year-old does not want to be consoled by the narrow gap to third place: “We can sit here and argue that we would have been P3 with three hundredths more. But the reality is that I’m looking at the gap to Lando rather than the gap to Mercedes, because three and a half tenths is a lot of lap time in Barcelona.”

Lewis Hamilton (P3, Mercedes) in the Parc Ferme
Ferrari narrowly missed out on third place on the grid, Photo: LAT Images

Ferrari failure in Spain: What role does the track characteristics play?

Accordingly, the result could have been even worse without the mistakes by Sergio Perez and Oscar Piastri. “I don’t know what happened to Checo and Oscar, but to be honest, Red Bull and McLaren seemed a bit out of reach,” said Sainz.

Ferrari’s search for problems begins with the characteristics of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which has several high-speed sections. These long, fast corners remind Sainz of the races in China and Japan: “And there, too, we were a big step behind.”

Although Ferrari brought an extensive update package to Barcelona (including a new underbody), the problem with this type of corner was not explicitly resolved, as Leclerc revealed on Thursday. The car’s bouncing around in particular is still causing problems for Ferrari in the high-speed corners, even in the third year of the ground effect era.

“That probably kills the tyres a bit for the third sector too,” Sainz mused. “It’s been hard all weekend trying to get rid of it and we haven’t managed to get rid of it. We come to this track and you can see that McLaren and Red Bull have zero bounce. They’re doing a good job.”

Leclerc and Sainz agree: Ferrari update works

But it is precisely in light of this Ferrari weakness that Sainz warns against jumping to conclusions: “It’s very track-dependent at the moment. The only ones who have clearly joined the fight are Mercedes and McLaren’s Miami upgrade, which has catapulted them from one step behind us to one step ahead of us.”

Leclerc also doesn’t want to hear about a crisis mood – and is looking for the fault in terms of the qualifying result on the operational side. “Because if you look at the gap between Mercedes and McLaren, it’s more or less what you would expect based on the last few races,” said the 132-time GP starter. “So it’s more that we didn’t perform as well as we should have this weekend.”

However, Leclerc and Sainz were able to announce at least one piece of positive news after the qualifying failure in Barcelona. The update package seems to be working as planned. “We saw that it brings performance to the car, 100 percent. We see the numbers we expected,” Leclerc clarified. At the same time, this very fact poses further puzzles for the World Championship runner-up. “It feels like I have access to the additional performance, but we are three tenths behind. We have to look at it because we were definitely missing something today,” said Leclerc.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in the paddock
Was not satisfied with Ferrari: Charles Leclerc, Photo: LAT Images

What can Ferrari do in the Barcelona race?

But Leclerc himself promptly provided a possible answer: “It’s always a relative sport. Other teams have also brought upgrades and it always depends on what big steps forward each one makes. There is certainly more that we can optimise with this new package. But I wouldn’t use that as an excuse. We’re just lacking a bit of pace this weekend.”

The fact that The fact that Verstappen doesn’t seem to be pulling away from the rest of the field at the moment is not helping to brighten the mood at the Scuderia – quite the opposite. “There are now two cars three and a half tenths ahead of us. So today is not really encouraging for us,” Leclerc clarified.

At least for the race, Ferrari is still fighting despite difficult overtaking conditions in Barcelona. Sainz thinks a podium is difficult, but strategy could offer one or two opportunities in the expected two-stop race. “On the strategic side, we can still do things,” said Sainz. “I hope we can still deliver a good race. Especially if we get a good start, we’ll be there and then you can play with undercuts and overcuts.”

It wasn’t just Ferrari that didn’t perform as hoped in the Formula 1 qualifying in Spain. Sergio Perez also disappointed again, finishing eighth. You can find out all the details here:

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