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If you watched Formula 1 qualifying in. Bahrain, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a wormhole and emerged back in 2022. That’s because we’ve only made it through the first meaningful track session for the 2023 Formula 1 season and already the attention is on a Ferrari strategy decision.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It was a strange qualifying for the Scuderia and from the start, it looked like things were going to go poorly.
As he was winding up for his first flying lap of the season, a piece of carbon flying flew off of Charles Leclerc’s SF-23. That’s never good, but it was apparent how not good it was when he blew a fatter cloud of smoke than the stoner kid in your college dorm while breaking into turn 1.
Worse yet, another piece flew off from beneath the nose of his car. It led to a red flag, which caused certain armchair F1 pundits to bust out a classic meme, just minutes into the first qualifying session of the year.
As it turns out, that particular armchair pundit had to eat his words. From that point on the Ferraris stayed at the top of the leaderboard through qualifying, and managed to easily get through both Q1 and Q2.
It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong.
Still, the team didn’t get through qualifying without one big question mark hanging over them.
As every other team prepared to do one last run, Leclerc hopped out of his car. It looked like the team had come across a technical issue, but that wasn’t the case.
It turns out that they chose to save a set of soft tires for the race instead of doing one last qualifying run. That handed more or less handed pole and a first row-lockout to Red Bull. Ferrari has the second row to itself, but will the gamble pay off on race day?
Ferrari Are Going For It With Soft Tire Gamble
From the way it looks, Ferrari will start Charles Leclerc on soft tires to hopefully give him a jump off the line. It’ll also give him a bit extra in his first stint, but the stint will probably be very short.
He’ll need to get past the Red Bulls ASAP, then build a gap with some strong laps. That stint is going to be key to their entire race.
The Bahrain International Circuit eats tires, which is why the hard compound tire is sometimes considered a solid race tire. The extra pace Ferrari will get on their opening stint could work out if they aren’t suddenly caught out by rapid tire degradation or use up too much of their tires battling the Red Bulls. Pitting early will them into longer — and likely painful — second or third stints on the medium or Hard tires.
It could absolutely work, but it’s a gamble for sure. Last season, Ferrari had a habit of qualifying well, but not having great pace on Sundays. It’s interesting to me that they forked over a shot at track position for a strategic move in the Grand Prix.
Watching qualifying, I thought it was a good move until I heard Sergio Perez’s interview after the session. He said that he was surprised by how well Red Bull performed given that their focus was on setting the car up for the Grand Prix.
Uh… excuse me?
A performance that dominant from both cars and the team had their focus on Sunday? I imagine there were some thousand-yard stairs from Ferrari strategists after hearing that one.
Of course, there are so many variables at play, anything can happen. This bold move could pay dividends when the checkered flag waves on Sunday.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle