Charles Leclerc: Last two races taught Ferrari so much about "very different" 2024 car

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Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2023
Ferrari Media Gallery

MARINA BAY STREET CIRCUIT, SINGAPORE — Charles Leclerc is far from confident when it comes to his chances at this Sunday's Grand Prix, but has much more faith in Ferrari's ability to compete at the pinnacle of Formula 1 in 2024. 

Ferrari finished second in the Constructors' Championship last season, taking four victories (three through Leclerc and one via teammate Carlos Sainz) to comfortably finish above Mercedes, even if nowhere near runaway winners Red Bull. Leclerc split the Red Bulls by also taking second in the Drivers' Championship, holding off Sergio Perez by three points.

However, it was ultimately a year tinged with disappointment under former team principal Mattia Binotto, as a promising start tailed off amid problem after problem — a combination of sloppy errors and technical issues. As such, Binotto was replaced by Fred Vasseur in the offseason. 

This time around, the Scuderia have been nowhere near Red Bull and reigning champion Max Verstappen at any point, with Sainz in fifth spot in the standings and Leclerc in sixth. Mercedes have overtaken them in the battle for the silver medal at team level. 

While that year of transition can be excused, Ferrari will hope 2024 is the campaign to finally end a drought for a drivers' title which stretches back to Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. 

A 3-4 finish in Italy earlier this month, in which the pair of Ferraris clocked in 12 seconds quicker than the nearest Mercedes in the final standings, looks like it may have provided a surprisingly big step towards realising Vasseur's vision.

WATCH: F1's Singapore Grand Prix live in the U.S. with Fubo (free trial)

In the Singapore paddock, Leclerc revealed: "We learned plenty during Monza, especially about our weaknesses. After Monza, we understood more things which are good for this year, even though it will be a small step in the right direction — but mostly for designing next year’s car, which is positive. 

"The 2024 project is very different to the car we have this year. With everything we’ve learned so far, it reaffirms that it’s a good choice for next year. The more we learn, the better it is for the last few details on next year’s car. It’s super important to understand before the end of the season.

"There were things that we retested in Monza to make sure it was really the case, and it was. Zandvoort and Monza, we learned a lot. I don’t think it will turn our season around, for sure not, but it’s a good step forward. 

"As drivers, you of course say the weaknesses of this year’s car. The engineers are working — they came back to me telling me it will be quite different for next year and now I’m waiting to test the car as quickly as possible on the simulator. 

"It can be frustrating sometimes [to drive an uncompetitive car] but it’s my job to be giving 100% in whatever situation I’m in. I prefer a situation like last year, fighting for wins and podiums every weekend, but this year this is the way it is. 

"I always had 100% trust in Fred and what his views are, for the team long-term. On that, I’ve always been aligned. We just need to be patient, but I have no doubt we’re going in the right direction."

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On the hunt for just his fourth podium of the year, and the team's fifth, in South East Asia this Sunday, Leclerc is unsure of Ferrari's capabilities on the premier night-racing circuit as he prepares for the free practice sessions. 

The Monegasque has enjoyed a pair of second-placed finishes here in the past, but faces a slightly different challenge this time, with four corners of sector three having been removed from the track layout due to a new outdoor venue being built in the spectacular Marina Bay area. 

Previewing his task in the heat of downtown Singapore, Leclerc said: "I liked the old part, those four corners, so it’s a bit of a shame it’s not there anymore. Hopefully it will give us more overtaking opportunity. 

"Monza confirmed we were stronger on lower-downforce tracks, which obviously [it means Singapore] is going to be a more difficult weekend for us. It’s quite difficult to get from one weekend in Monza, where we are fighting for third position and we are clearly the second strongest team on track, to a weekend like this, where we need to reset a little bit.

"It will be much closer with Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin. I have no idea [what Ferrari can aim for this weekend], I really have no idea. It changes so quickly.

"The tendency seems whenever we are on lower-downforce tracks we are always strong. On high downforce, it’s a bit more inconsistent. It’s one of my favourite tracks, though, so I hope we can at least be the second-strongest team. 

"In terms of results, it might not be as exciting as last year, or I hope next year. But in terms of development and learning, there are lots of things planned for the next few races. It’s super interesting."

WATCH: F1's Singapore Grand Prix live in the U.S. with Fubo (free trial)

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Raj Singh Mahil is UK Chief Editor at The Sporting News.