Zandvoort Practice Outshines Hamilton’s Signing as Ferrari’s Defining Moment

The excitement surrounding Ferrari’s Formula 1 team has been palpable since news broke that Lewis Hamilton would join the team in 2025. This major acquisition has captivated the global audience and signals Ferrari’s high aspirations.

This move has injected a new sense of optimism among Ferrari’s ardent fanbase, the Tifosi, especially with Chairman John Elkann being present at the factory to observe the final preparations of the new SF-24 car before its unveiling.

This act underscores a renewed enthusiasm within the Maranello-based team. Dubbed ‘Operation Relaunch’ by Ferrari’s top brass, this initiative represents a comprehensive plan to propel the iconic Prancing Horse to the forefront of Formula 1 racing.

Charles Leclerc points to a less conspicuous but pivotal moment that he believes was crucial for the team’s progress.

According to Leclerc, a practice session during last year’s Dutch Grand Prix stands out as a significant turning point for Ferrari, far beyond the implications of acquiring a new driver.

At the Zandvoort circuit, amidst a season filled with challenges regarding the SF-23’s race pace, Ferrari took a novel approach.

Abandoning their usual focus on tyre strategies, Leclerc and his teammate Carlos Sainz were given radically different setups to thoroughly assess the car’s performance with varying downforce and mechanical configurations.

Choosing to use a practice day for this purpose placed Ferrari at a disadvantage for that weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix. Nonetheless, the insights gained from this experiment were instrumental in improving the team’s performance, evidenced by a pole position in the Italian Grand Prix and a win in Singapore.

Leclerc emphasizes the importance of this strategic shift, viewing it as a cornerstone for ‘Operation Relaunch’ and a more critical moment for the team’s evolution than recent developments.

He responded, when queried about the current atmosphere of optimism within Ferrari; “I have this feeling since six months already.

“Six months ago, since we started that second part of the season, there was a really big motivation from the whole team.

“I remember very clearly the moment: we had our particular tests in Zandvoort, in free practice. We came back from Zandvoort and we all sat down and we had very clear results in front of our eyes.

And I think that gave a huge motivation to the team because we were like, ‘okay, so now we understand what are the weak points of the car, where we need to work, and which direction we need to take.'”

Leclerc believed that the insights gained from Zandvoort, combined with how the team has collaborated since then, have been pivotal in establishing the groundwork for their current standing.

He said, “From that moment onwards, everybody has been fully on board with the directions that we have been taking.

“Everything made sense. And we saw after three or four races, we brought the new floor in Japan, and straight away it was a step forward, in terms of sensitivities with the wind, but also in terms of the front.

“I speak very often about wanting a strong front, and that was a step forward as well. And I really hope that this [2024] car can follow up the momentum that we’ve had since the second part of last year.

“I don’t think it’s a new optimism right now. I think it already started six months ago. But it’s a good thing to see. And it’s exciting for the future.”

According to Team Principal Fred Vasseur, advancements were already underway before the Zandvoort breakthrough. However, he agrees that it signified a moment when the team notably elevated their performance.

He clarified; “For sure we woke up after Zandvoort, I’m not sure that it was only linked to Zandvoort, but it was part of the recovery.

“It’s not easy to do the sacrifice of one event, because I think that then the event was difficult for different reasons. But it’s difficult to say okay, let’s sacrifice the FP1 and the FP2 to do some tests to recover.

“I think it was well managed. And it was the right decision at the right moment. And it was probably one of the reasons of the recovery of the team.”

The blend of Zandvoort’s impact and Hamilton joining the team has undeniably raised Ferrari’s aspirations for a more successful future. However, Vasseur has no intentions of resting on these laurels, believing the work is far from complete.

He remains dedicated to advancing the development of the 2024 car to overcome previous challenges and is committed to continual enhancements. This approach is crucial for Ferrari’s ambition to achieve victory in F1.

“I would say that by DNA, if you start to be happy with what you have, you are dead,” he declared.

“It means that you need to be always in the mindset of continuous improvement, to try to work on your weaknesses, and to try to step on some areas. And so it’s a no-end project.

“For sure people are starting to join the team now, and this is good news. But it’s day after day we are reinforcing the team, we are making steps.

“But again, it’s not that tomorrow morning I will say now: ‘We are there, and I’m happy with the situation.’ If you start to have this kind of approach, I think it’s the beginning of the end.”