Ferrari pleased by engine gains but Leclerc rules out return to 2019 level

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Ferrari expects the straights to be less of a weakness after the improved performance from their 2021 power unit during Formula 1 testing.

Last year, changes made in the wake of an FIA investigation saw the Italian engine drop from the best to the worst on the grid by some margin, putting all Ferrari-powered teams on the back foot.

To make matters worse, measures implemented due to Covid-19 then prevented the team from introducing updates, leaving them with the same spec unit as from pre-season testing.

Finally, Ferrari has been able to bring an upgraded power unit for 2021, and the first signs are positive.

“Obviously we know how the engine is running on the dyno,” said team boss Mattia Binotto during testing.

“When you fit it on the car what you may have a look at on track is the speed and eventually the relative speed to the others.

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“When we were here last year in Bahrain for the race and for qualifying we’ve been very slow here on the straights – we didn’t enter into Q3 and we were very distant from pole.

“Now if I look at the first days I think at least on the straights the speed is alright. It doesn’t seem to be such a disadvantage as it was last year.

“We know it’s not only power, it’s the drag of the car as well – as we often said last year – but let me say that both of them contributed in improving our speed on the straights and today we feel it is not anymore a disadvantage.”

New arrival Carlos Sainz had to deal with questions about his decision to join Ferrari as a result of their difficult 2020, but he too believes their biggest weakness has been addressed. 

“It’s still too early to draw conclusions. What I can assure you is we have more power than last year. We measure it and we see it. That’s good news," he told Spain's Mundo Deportivo.

“Once we get the variables a little bit more settled we can understand a little bit more where we are in terms of top speed.

“I don’t think we will be the fastest on the straights, I’m not going to deceive you, but we must not forget that last year we came from far behind and this year at least we have to make a step forward.”

Despite the optimism, Charles Leclerc warns Ferrari still has a lot of work to do, and that the glory days of a few years ago are still some way off. 

“It is still very early to talk about the performance of the SF21,” he told Code Sport Monaco.

"When I was talking about bringing Ferrari back to the top, it was a rather medium/long term objective, I wasn’t talking directly about 2021

“The technical regulations prevent us from doing whatever we want on the car. Therefore the SF21 is not a revolution but rather an evolution of the SF1000.

“We will try to improve on last year but there will be no miracles," the two-time race winner conceded. "We have to be realistic. Although I am hoping for it, I don’t think we will fight for the championship in 2021.

“We’ve caught up a little bit. I think the balance of the car has been improved quite a bit, the handling is better this year.

“There are positive signs, a lot of good work has been done, but it won’t be enough to get back to the level of 2019.

“We can’t forget where Ferrari was last year. In Formula 1, everything takes time.”