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WEC Fuji

Ferrari's Fuji qualifying struggles "a surprise", says Calado

Ferrari driver James Calado admits qualifying a second off the pace at Fuji was "a surprise" after the Italian marque endured its worst-ever qualifying in the World Endurance Championship.

#51 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

Calado could only manage sixth in the best of the two Ferrari 499P LMH cars in qualifying for the penultimate round of the season, 1.2 seconds down on the #7 Toyota that took pole with Kamui Kobayashi at the wheel.

Nicklas Nielsen in the sister #50 Ferrari was another tenth behind in seventh, as Ferrari failed to get a single car inside the top three for the first time in 2023. 

While Toyota was always the favourite for pole position on home ground, Ferrari also qualified behind the two factory Porsches as well as the sole Chip Ganassi-run Cadillac, leaving it as the fourth-fastest manufacturer in the pecking order.

Calado expressed his disappointment over Ferrari's struggles in qualifying, saying the team was even further behind than he expected compared to the previous round at Monza in July.

"Quite a surprise, honestly," said the British driver. "I expected a little bit better than that. 

"We knew going into this weekend we were at a slight disadvantage compared to Monza with what we have been given, so I think in reality that's where we planned to be. It's still disappointing. 

"In terms of my quali, it was a good first lap, I did get compromised in the last sector, but even so I don't think we can compete with the Toyotas. That was something magical by Kamui, it was a great lap, congratulations to them.

"But I am happy with the lap, that was almost the maximum the car could have done, maybe one to two tenths better."

#50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen

#50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen

Photo by: Ferrari

Nielsen, whose team-mate Fuoco has scored two pole positions so far in 2023 for Ferrari, was also left dejected by the 499P's lack of pace, describing the session as the "most difficult qualifying" of the season for the Italian manufacturer.

"It's pretty clear we are lacking quite a lot of pace," he added. "It looks like it's going to be a long race tomorrow, but there's nothing we can do. We have to try and gain a bit back in the race, but it will be difficult."

Calado was equally pessimistic about Ferrari's chances on Sunday, believing tyre wear could be a deciding factor in the six-hour race if it remains dry.

"I think in the race it will be difficult because degradation is high for us," he said. "We'll see what we can do with the strategy, Fuji always plays tricks on us with the weather especially, it's like a little micro-climate."

Mauro Barbieri, Ferrari's performance and simulation chief, explained that there were a number of reasons behind the marque's poor pace in qualifying, with mixed conditions in practice contributing to its problems.

"It's mainly related to small details; putting together the lap, preparing it properly," Barbieri said. "These details don't get put together every time in the right direction. It's something we can learn from and improve as a team.

"There are many details we might regard as the culprit: tyre preparation, maybe the set-up choices we did. The weather conditions were unpredictable, so maybe that led us to some set-up choices that didn't pay off in a full dry qualifying.

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"Every driver would say in qualifying they could have done better by a tenth or two. If you put all these things together, you can explain the big gap to P2.

"Looking at the gap to P1, we have to congratulate Kamui, because he did an astonishing job and probably did the perfect lap."

The Ferrari shared by Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi sits joint-second in the championship, 23 points down on the #8 Toyota of Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa that qualified second.

The #51 crew needs to stay within 39 points of the championship-leading Toyota to remain in the title hunt heading into the Bahrain season finale in November.

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