Charles Leclerc says Ferrari is “different” without Sebastian Vettel in the garage next to him.
The biggest difference, it would seem, is that the Maranello team has at least ended its technical crisis of last year, with a faster car and more powerful engine.
Leclerc said in Barcelona: “It’s painful that we still have problems getting on the podium and fighting for victories.
“But we have improved since last year even if we still have a long way to go to get where we want to be and that is the top,” he told RTL.
“If you compare it to 2020, the first three races were positive.”
In Friday practice, however, Ferrari looked surprisingly even more competitive – in fact, Leclerc was just over a tenth from Mercedes’ ultimate pace.
“This track is representative of the rest of the season,” said Leclerc.
“We are all close together with McLaren, Alpine, Alpha Tauri. If we have a perfect weekend, I am sure that we will be at the front of the midfield teams.”
However, he said Ferrari’s real focus this year is on the 2022 car, even if the now departed Vettel’s replacement Carlos Sainz is doing a good job so far with the current single seater.
“It’s different,” smiled Leclerc when asked what Ferrari is like in the post-Vettel era.
“For Carlos, I still remember exactly how it feels. And you can imagine how motivated and happy he is about everything,” he said.
“The mood has changed a bit in the team. I can’t tell what went wrong for Seb last year,” Leclerc admitted. “I hope he has a good season this year because he is a great guy who works very hard.”
However, he said he is more than happy to now have Spaniard Sainz at his side.
“We’re pushing ourselves, spending a lot of time in Maranello before the season, trying to move the team in the right direction,” said Leclerc. “It has been a very constructive collaboration so far.
“Of course there is also the competition because every driver wants to win – Carlos wants to win, I want to win too. We share a lot of information but in the car we have the motivation to beat each other.”