When Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc closed his eyes before the start of the 2023 Formula 1 season and envisioned how he wanted the campaign to unfold, this is not the start he likely imagined.
Leclerc posted a DNF in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix after a power failure on lap 40. That came hours after the team discovered a problem with the power unit control electronics in his SF-23, requiring Ferrari to change out the unit for a new one.
Now, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, things have gone from bad to worse. Team Principal Frederic Vasseur confirmed on Wednesday that Ferrari has again changed out the control electronics in Leclerc’s SF-23.
Given that teams are allotted just two per season, that means Leclerc is facing a ten-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Grand Prix.
“There were two issues, one on the Sunday morning when we did the fire-up and one in the race,” Vasseur explained. “Unfortunately, it was two times the control electronics box and it’s something that we never experienced in the past. I hope that now we have it under control. We have a deep analysis on this. But unfortunately, we will have to take the penalty in Jeddah because we only have a pool of two control electronics for the season.”
What does this mean for Leclerc at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix? That he drops ten spots on the grid for the start of the race, meaning starting tenth is his best possible qualifying spot.
However, Leclerc might have opportunities to make up that position during the race this weekend. Last year, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was in the middle of the pack for overtakes, as you can see here:
In addition, while Leclerc finished second to Max Verstappen in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he posted the fastest lap of the race, despite losing the late-race duel with the Red Bull driver.
Other drivers have been able to make up some substantial ground at Jeddah. Last season, Lewis Hamilton started 15th, but finished 10th, making up five spots during the race. Nico Hülkenberg, driving for Aston Martin, made up five spots as well, finishing 12th after starting 17th.
There was even more movement in the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Both Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz Jr. picked up seven spots during the race. Stroll started 18th but finished 11th, and Sainz finished eighth after starting in 15th position.
So, the silver lining for Ferrari supporters is that Leclerc might be able to make up some of that ground this weekend.
But that is a silver lining on a very, very dark cloud.