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Leclerc hopes new Ferrari will be easier to drive

AP PHOTO

Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz sounded positive at the launch of a 2024 car they expect to be easier to drive and develop through the longest Formula One season yet.

The sport's most successful team, and only one to have competed in every world championship since 1950, dropped to third overall last year behind Mercedes and runaway champions Red Bull.

However, Monaco's Leclerc said on Tuesday that the SF-24, which the team said "breaks with the tradition of the last two years", should be less sensitive and easier to drive than last year's difficult and disappointing one.

"I expect the car to be a step forward in several areas and from the impression I formed in the simulator I think we're where we want to be," he added after an online reveal and physical launch at Ferrari's Fiorano test track.

"This season the aim is to be front runners all the time and I want to give our fans plenty to cheer about."

Leclerc will again partner Spaniard Sainz, who is in his final year at Maranello before making way for Mercedes' seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton in 2025.

Sainz was the only driver last season to beat Red Bull, his victory in Singapore denying the champions a clean sweep of all 22 races.

This season has expanded to a record 24 races, with China returning post-pandemic and Italy's Imola back on after being cancelled by flooding last year.

Sainz admitted Hamilton's shock transfer came out of the blue. "I was a bit surprised, like everyone in the Formula One world," he said.

"I got to know the news a bit earlier than anyone else and I had some weeks to reflect and prepare and also get ready for the car launch and the first race of the season.

"That gave me a bit of time to digest it and to draw my own conclusions and to focus on the 2024 season.

"I have had lot of messages of support which I would like to thank the F1 world for and friends back at home, who have been very supportive and very encouraging."

Sainz, 29, added: "My next team, I don't know yet. I have time to decide when that happens next. There are plenty of options out there.

"I am approaching the most important three or four years of my career and I want to make sure that I am in the right place."

The car is the first fully conceived under team boss Fred Vasseur, who took over from Mattia Binotto in January 2023, and the Frenchman said the team needed to continue last season's strong finish.

"We have also to be focused on the weaknesses of 2023 and to be much more opportunistic in terms of points scored and we will be focused on this," he added.

Ferrari ended last season with Leclerc runner-up to Red Bull's Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi but still 17.8 seconds behind the triple world champion whose team had long given up developing their car.

Chassis technical director Enrico Cardile said every area of the Ferrari had been redesigned.

"We have taken on board what the drivers told us and turned those ideas into engineering reality, with the aim of giving them a car that's easier to drive and therefore easier to get the most out of and push it to its limits," he said.

The mostly red car, the 70th that Ferrari have built to compete in Formula One, features yellow longitudinal stripes for the first time since 1968 along with some white.

The season starts in Bahrain on March 2.

With PA