Leclerc completed the Spa race with reliability problems

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Scuderia Ferrari’s Head of Race Strategy, Inaki Rueda has revealed that Charles Leclerc’s SF1000 encountered a technical problem that heavily influenced his Belgian Grand Prix.

Ferrari endured a very difficult race weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix where Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel ended up at the bottom of the leaderboard in every session. The SF1000 lacked pace over a single lap, but, surprisingly, the situation did not improve in race trim that has been the strength of the team’s underperforming 2020 F1 car.

The SF1000 lacked overall grip with Vettel and Leclerc suffering under braking and in medium-speed corners. The fabled Italian team experimented with an extremely low-downforce aerodynamic setup on Friday, but they reverted back to a ’normal’ Spa setup for the remainder of the weekend.

Following a dreadful qualifying session, the team chose two different strategies for its drivers with Leclerc starting the 44-lap race on the soft compound and Vettel using the medium for his opening stint. Inaki Rueda said that his team needed to experiment with different strategies given its dismal starting positions.

“The behaviour of the three Pirelli compounds in Spa and, unfortunately, our positions on the grid, actually gave us plenty of flexibility in terms of tyre choice for the start. The safest bet was the Medium, which would have allowed for a relatively early stop to switch to Hards or to go as long as possible in the first stint to then try and finish on the Soft.

„Starting on the Soft would have been an advantage in the early laps, especially those when DRS was not yet enabled. With both drivers out of Q3, it made sense to split the strategies, so Sebastian went on Mediums and Charles on the Softs, which would also put him in good shape if there was an early neutralisation or one towards the end of the race.”

When the safety car was deployed on lap 10, several drivers at the back of the field were about to approach the bus stop chicane. Ferrari wanted to call both its driver in for a tyre change, capitalizing on the shorter pit stop time, albeit they had to abandon the idea due to a technical problem on Leclerc’s car.

“Both drivers were very near turn 17 and therefore close to the pit lane entry: ideally we wanted to bring them in on the same lap and do a double stop, as we did in the second Silverstone race. However, there was an unknown factor to consider, namely the fact that the engine’s pneumatic valve system on Charles’ car was using too much air.

„His stop would therefore have to be longer, as topping up the system normally adds three seconds. So a double stop would have penalised Sebastian, which is why he stayed out for one more lap. It meant that Charles lost a place to Räikkönen because of topping up the air so that Seb was now in front of his team-mate.”

Despite filling up the pneumatic system during the first pit stop, the issue did not disappear and the 22-year-old needed to visit Ferrari’s mechanics for a second time to avoid a late-race engine failure.

„With Charles we also had the air problem, as his consumption increased again, although not to a dramatic extent. In the position in which he found himself, a second stop seemed a possibility, both in order to make the most of a set of new Mediums and also to avoid the risk of having an air problem in the final laps. At the beginning of the new stint, in clean air, his pace was very good and he set the fourth fastest lap time of the race even though at that point he still had a lot of fuel on board.

“Formula 1 engines use air to operate the valves which, as is the case with the oil, can occasionally consume more than normal. The air bottle on the car can be topped up by connecting it to the compressed air system and in the case of the SF1000, the connector is on the left hand side. That’s why on tv, we saw a mechanic attach to the car a sort of jack with a compressed air bottle. These things happen from time to time and we practice these procedures over the course of the race weekend,” Rueda concluded.