Leclerc confident Ferrari “can come back on the podium tomorrow” after tricky F1 Chinese GP qualifying for the Scuderia

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari
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After qualifying P7 for the Sprint Race yesterday in wet conditions, Charles Leclerc went one better for the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday. He pipped teammate Carlos Sainz by 0.008s to claim a third row spot.

Leclerc was quick to admit he was not happy with where he had qualified. There were six tenths between his best lap time in Q3 and the pole lap of the reigning World Champion Max Verstappen.

He confessed he knew going in they had left some performance on the table as far as qualifying was concerned as they focused on maximising the car for the race.

But Ferrari were not expecting to be outqualified by the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso and the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri as the Woking team made a bigger step in Q3 compared to the Scuderia.

“On my side specifically, I had a car that I think would be better for the race tomorrow and I knew I would leave something on the table for qualifying.

“However, I don’t think we were expecting McLaren and Fernando to jump us as well, which this has probably been overdone a little bit.

“But I think we are in a good place for tomorrow. Tyre management will be a big thing tomorrow,” added Leclerc. “We have a good race pace, good tyre management, so I’m still confident we can come back on the podium tomorrow.

“But obviously, it was a bit of a bad surprise to be overtaken by the two McLarens and Fernando,” the Monégasque driver reiterated.

When asked about Max Verstappen’s performance, Leclerc highlighted the gains the Scuderia had made in their race pace, even more so on a front-limited circuit like Shanghai.

“In a race, I think we are on a similar planet. I mean, he’s still very, very strong and I don’t know how much he was pushing this morning.

“But whenever they are struggling a bit more with the front axle, then we are here and not too far away.

For the Grand Prix tomorrow, Leclerc stated the key element will be passing the cars in between as early as possible.

“So, it all depends how quickly we get through tomorrow. But obviously it’s going to be very difficult tomorrow to go and overtake him as he will have free air from the first lap.”

The 26-year-old has had a difficult run in qualifying during the 2024 season so far. Leclerc has struggled with getting the soft tyres of SF-24 in the right operating window.

When asked about his tyre preparation on outlaps and progress to address the issue, he stated, “Did I do a step forward? For sure, yes. Is it enough? For sure not.

“And there’s more to come because normally in qualifying, it’s straight away. I managed to be on the limit, be at ease with the car and still I’ve got to work a lot on the outlap and to think about everything to try and make it work on the first time lap. So, it doesn’t come natural.

“It’s not as good as what I want to be and not the level at where I want to be. However, it’s a step forward for sure.”

Leclerc also mentioned that he had made changes to the car set-up after the Sprint Race “which I think compromised even more our qualifying”.

“But we knew that it would help even more the race for sure. But as I said, we probably did not expect doing that in one and a half tenths, so it was all very close.

“We lost three or four positions, which is a bit more positions than what we would have hoped or liked to compromise.

“But tomorrow we just need to get through as quickly as possible and then we are quite confident about our tyre management.”

Leclerc also thinks Sunday’s Grand Prix will be almost identical to the Sprint Race.

“I think it will be a very similar race. If anything, I think the others will probably struggle less because with one race you learn and you get better.”

“For us this morning, it was quite a strong race in terms of tyre management. So, on our side, I don’t expect big changes.”