Charles Leclerc aims for F1 crown in Ferrari's new car for 2023

Monegasque driver hopes to move past frustrating season that was punctuated by strategy mistakes and reliability issues

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr, new team principal, Frederic Vasseur, and Charles Leclerc with the SF23 car for the 2023 season.  AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Charles Leclerc declared his love for the new Ferrari SF23 F1 car after its debut in front of hundreds of fans on Tuesday.

The Monegasque beat Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz in a coin flip, conducted by new team principal Fred Vasseur, for the honour of driving the red and black car for its first laps on a sunny day.

In front of a grandstand packed with about 500 supporters at their Maranello headquarters, Leclerc and Sainz did laps of Ferrari’s Fiorano track.

"It feels good," said Leclerc after two laps. "It feels special. Everything went smoothly. Obviously with two laps its difficult to go into details but I already gave my feedback once I was in the car to the engineers.

"The car was running well, smooth. Everything went really well," added the 2022 championship runner-up.

“I mean, 2022 was a good step forward compared to the two difficult years that was 2020 and 2021,” Leclerc added. “But we finished second in the constructors’ championship and also finished second in the in the drivers’ championship.

“So I’m really, really looking forward to this new car … the goal is to is to win, clearly. I mean, the feeling of winning is what motivates me, motivates all the team, too. So I’m really looking forward to get back in the car and hopefully try and win that championship.”

Sainz was given three laps in the car as compensation for having to wait for his turn, turning down a request over the radio from Leclerc to be allowed one more lap before handing over.

Ferrari's SF23 was unveiled at Maranello. Reuters

Ferrari finished runners-up to Red Bull last season after a campaign punctuated by strategy mistakes, driver errors and a lack of reliability.

The coming season is the first for team principal Vasseur, who took charge in December following the resignation of Mattia Binotto the month before.

Binotto was considered culpable for last season's frequent missteps, including pitlane errors and reliability issues which damaged Leclerc's attempt to keep up with Max Verstappen.

Ferrari began with two wins in the opening three Grands Prix but were then swept aside by Red Bull and Verstappen, who won the drivers title with three races remaining and eventually finished 146 points ahead of Leclerc.

Vasseur said he was confident the team had done a good job on the engine and reliability.

"I think we are in a good place," said the Frenchman.

The season starts in Bahrain on March 5, with testing at the Sakhir circuit next week.

Meanwhile, two-time champion Fernando Alonso said his new Aston Martin team would “not be happy with second” as they try to build toward a title challenge in future years.

Alonso joins as a replacement for fellow former champion Sebastian Vettel, who retired at the end of last season.

Aston Martin were seventh in last year’s constructors’ standings with Vettel and Lance Stroll, son of the team’s executive chairman Lawrence Stroll.

“We have to make sure that we have a good baseline for Aston Martin cars that will come in the future. Last year, I think the team went through some difficulties during the first part of the year but they had a good second part of the year, so we have to see that progress also into 2023,” Alonso said.

“We will not be happy with fourth, we will not be happy with third, we will not be happy with second. So maybe we cannot win immediately, but that’s something that we need to make sure, that this car is the baseline for future years.”

The car was launched at Aston Martin’s as-yet unfinished new factory, which Lawrence heralded as a “game changer” and a key part of long-term plans. The team is due to move in later this year.

Updated: February 14, 2023, 4:26 PM