Ferrari needs to “understand” a “very strange” lack of pace on hards in F1 Chinese GP compared to McLaren — Leclerc

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari
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Leclerc started 6th at the Chinese Grand Prix in front of his teammate Carlos Sainz who qualified P7. Both Ferraris were struggling during qualifying on Saturday as they ended up behind Alonso and the McLarens.

The Monegasque driver was expecting a smoother race day as the Ferrari seems much stronger on race pace versus one-lap performance. He crossed the line 4th as the chequered flag was waved.

Leclerc started the race on the medium tyres and showed extremely strong pace and tyre management during the first stint, and Ferrari were confident they could pull off a perfect one-stopper. 

On Lap 21 the Sauber of Bottas stopped due to an engine failure in the run off at turn 11. It caused a Virtual Safety Car on the following tour where Leclerc who was running in third pitted for new hards. He stayed in that position as Perez boxed for a second time when it was upgraded to a full Safety Car.

However, he could not match Norris in front following the restart and was eventually passed by Perez for the final podium spot on Lap 39 at turn 6.

Leclerc finished 10s behind Norris and was left puzzled by the lack of pace on the hards after a strong medium stint..

“I don’t know, but I didn’t find it. I don’t think we found it as a team. Especially on the hard tyres, which is a bit strange because the strength of this car since the beginning of the year is that it’s very solid in all conditions with all tyres.

“Today it’s a bit an outlier because as soon as we put the hard we were half a second off. So that is very strange. We’ll look into it and try to understand what went wrong on that run.

“It’s very strange, especially compared to the McLaren because with Lando [Norris] at first I really thought we were going to fight with him.

“I was doing a good tyre management until the Safety Car that reset it a little bit.

“All strategies, which is a bit of a shame because I think we were doing a good job, but then on the hard we were just slow.”

The Ferrari driver explained that they were much stronger and faster on the medium tyres and was very much expecting a fight with the McLaren of Norris when the Safety Car periods ended.

But as soon as they changed to the hards his race pace was much slower than Norris. The Brit was lapping somewhere between 0.3-0.6 tenths faster than Leclerc throughout the second stint. 

The 26-year-old had expected to be closer in race pace to Red Bull as well.

“They have been very, very strong [Red Bull]. We expected again to be closer, at least in terms of race pace.

“But I still believe strongly that our medium race pace was very strong.

“Very difficult to show because we were in traffic. But then once we went longer in the stint, we were strong.

“However, as soon as we put the hard, we were miles off, but not a little bit. We were like half a second slower than McLaren when I was pushing and I knew the lap times of Lando. So that’s very strange.”

Despite the issues with the race pace on the hard tyres, Leclerc is the only driver on the grid that has finished inside the top 4 at every Grand Prix this season.