Before it’s lights out and away one goes for the Spanish Grand Prix, round eight of the 2023 world championship, Ferrari will have to stay abreast of the challenges that lie in front of it and they seem to be aplenty; not minuscule.
For starters, Ferrari, aiming for a podium finish, which is a seemingly realistic, if not some over ambitious target, enter Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya being fourth on the Constructor table.
In their bid to bring down the gap to the other prominent front runners, a possibility that Spain offers since Monaco offered a far-off possibility of doing so, Ferrari will have to bear in mind that they are 29 points behind Mercedes, currently third. Yet, at the same time, they are 30 points adrift of the second-placed Aston Martin.
Where it stands at present, then the 2023 world title fight has clearly panned out to be a three way battle, even as Mercedes, already 130 points shy of table toppers Red Bull, seem to be posing the weakest challenge possible to the title bid.
Are Ferrari in any way a part of the main battle?
But what’s much worse is that Ferrari are nowhere even close to playing a part in that feud.
Weekend after weekend as more misery descends over the famed Italian camp, Ferrari’s main challenge in a Grand Prix turns out to be damage limitation, something that the soon-to-begin Spanish Grand Prix will serve another reminder of given Leclerc’s disconsolation during Saturday’s qualifying
After a disastrous elimination from Q1, following which the Monegasque driver admitted the that car wasn’t at all holding up well in the left hand corners and the pace just wasn’t good enough, it’s highly likely that Leclerc will begin his Spanish run from the pit lane. Admittedly, Ferrari would have had to work over the car under Parc fermé.
If that doesn’t offer a glimpse of just what is the Ferrari predicament, then one wonders, what will?
Pressure as well as a chance for the Spaniard!
Yet, none of these challenges are perhaps burdening enough than what Carlos Sainz jr. has on his table.
That’s when the very challenge he faces might as well be an amazing opportunity in the next few hours: chasing after Max Verstappen at the race start.
After yet another belter of a qualifying lap in the final fading moments of Q3 having not seemed perhaps the fastest all along, Verstappen nailed another speedy lap, at the end of which he’d take a 24th career pole.
The only saving grace, particularly from a Ferrari perspective, was Carlos Sainz jr.’s second.
Yet if the sheer margin with which the Dutchman usurped the Spaniard is an indication, it’s not hard to imagine what might the Red Bull do this Sunday where race pace is concerned; Verstappen trumped Sainz by nearly half a second.
In the wake of what has happened to Leclerc, who was the pole sitter here last year and clearly the best Ferrari driver where it comes to qualifying form (given his almost unflinching consistency), it’s all now down on Carlos Sainz.
Many many hopes riding on Carlos!
All of the Tifosi’s hopes now clearly ride on Sainz, who seemed content and fairly relaxed upon the completion of a closely contested rain affected qualifying shoot out a few hours ago.
Who knows how nervous might he have felt on the inside, but Sainz iterated during his post-qualifying chat that, “Satisfied with the result, we’d like to focus on the job now and get it done tomorrow!”
And while there is a Ferrari tucked in right behind a Red Bull for a front row start, just how easy might it actually be for Carlos Sainz to pose a challenge to Verstappen, who as seen a few hours ago, was absolutely dominant?
While never say never in Formula 1 does appear to be the golden unsaid rule of the sport, Sainz’s task isn’t actually a one-way fight to control proceedings at the front.
The Madrid-born driver also needs to watch out in his rearview mirrors to gauge how Lando Norris, in third, might attack from behind.
Breaking rather extraordinarily the famed team’s underwhelming qualifying form up until now, Norris notched up a fantastic P3 at Spain.
Truth be told, the young British driver knows a thing or two about Sainz, his former teammate.
We’ve seen how the two have battled and pushed one other during closely fought starts in the past, picture the Russian Grand Prix of 2021.
Though, this is another day and another possible dogfight.
But while getting on top of a Red Bull might be akin to the fierce challenge of having to pull a truck by one’s teeth, the only realistic chance that Sainz may have at that could be on the opening lap, seconds from the start down at the main straight.
The 1,047 meter long straight leading down to turn 1 is the main overtaking point. It’s the ideal chance that Sainz would have to make some sort of a move on unarguably, one of the most ballsy drivers out there in Verstappen, one who’s perhaps nearly impossible to overtake given his resilience and the power of his machinery.
But conjecture and shadow driving don’t drive results in Formula 1.
It’s a long race up ahead. And Ferrari will take the positive of Sainz gathering his first front-row start in 2023, which was also an improvement over his previous year’s qualifying result at his home track.
He began from third on the grid last year and ended fourth. He begins from second now. But where does Carlos Sainz finish upon what could be extremely challenging and utterly exasperating 66 laps up ahead?