Leclerc: Ferrari on pole for Sunday “a really good surprise”

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It’s a positive day for Ferrari overall, as Charles Leclerc became the first non-Red Bull driver this year to score pole position in today’s qualifying session in Baku. It’s the third pole position in a row at the Azerbaijan GP for the Monegasque driver, who was “surprised” by his great performance:

“We came into the weekend thinking that it will be a great weekend if we are in front of Aston and Mercedes in qualifying and, at the end, we are on pole, so it’s a really good surprise.”

However, Leclerc warns that the chances of him getting his first victory of the 2023 season are not that high, considering the impressive pace championship leaders Red Bull have shown this season so far:

“We must not forget that our race car is maybe still behind the Red Bulls, so it’s going to be difficult to keep the lead, but that is the target and I’m really, really happy with the lap.”

During this weekend the new Sprint Format is being tested, with only one practice session before having to go flat out for the first qualifying session of the weekend. Adding to that, the drivers’ running time during this morning’s practice session was reduced due to Pierre Gasly’s engine issue and fire that brought out the red flags for 15 minutes.

“It’s a very challenging weekend for us drivers, because we had very little time to practice. We only had one practice and then you need to be straight on it, but the feeling was good since the start so really, really happy.”

It will be even harder to take part in the Sprint Qualifying tomorrow for the Ferrari drivers, as they will be forced to use the medium tyres during Q1 and Q2 without testing them before it:

“It’s going be challenging because we haven’t run the mediums yet. So tomorrow in qualifying [for the sprint race] will be the first time and we need to be on it because we only have one set. So, no room for mistake.

“But again, the pace seems strong. So, hopefully we can learn in Q1 and Q2 and then push in Q3 and we know the car is good,” he concluded, feeling hopeful for tomorrow.

His teammate Carlos Sainz was off to a difficult start as he spun during the very fragmented Q1, almost not making the cut to Q2, which forced him to use up early an extra set of soft tyres. He still managed to achieve a positive P4 for the Sunday race.

“In Sector One I was always tending to do mistakes, but honestly since the very first run of FP1 I was just struggling. It’s the same car and same setup as Australia. For some reason I was just off with feeling, off with balance and off with my own driving,” he told the media after the end of the session.

I was just tending to struggle quite a bit. In the end, I put myself into even more trouble in Q1 and Q2 by doing mistakes and losing even more confidence with the car.”

The Spanish driver was left unsatisfied with his performance in the last qualifying outing, which left him with a + 0.812s gap to his teammate in pole position.

“I was trailing the whole day. One new set only in Q3 which accelerates the gap, so not happy with today.

“To be starting P4 on Sunday is relatively good news with how bad was the session was,” he added.

However, it will be tough for the Ferrari driver to try and improve his performance, as the setup can’t be changed and without an extra practice session to try out new tweaks:

“Now I will look into tomorrow trying to make some steps with my driving and with my feeling because obviously the car is into Parc Ferme and if we find something we’re not going to be able to change it.

“So let’s see what awaits for me, I’m going to try and do everything I can with my driving, with my feeling to try and improve it,” a determined Sainz concluded.

Ferrari’s Race Director Laurent Mekies was extremely pleased with both his drivers, as he said to Sky Sports: “For sure it’s a great pole for the team, and for Charles specifically.”

“He has something more here, he is already super strong in Quali, but, you know, we have to pay tribute to the fact that in Baku he has something even more.

“He was on pole the last couple of years, and it’s good, but the reality is that it was also good to get both cars, both Carlos and Charles fighting for the top four positions.”

Mekies, who is set to join AlphaTauri, was even more pleased with both his drivers showing good pace and performing well after an extremely tough round last time out for the Australian GP, where Leclerc had spun out on Lap 1 and a penalised Sainz ended the race out of the top 10.

“It has been a lot of hard work since the last race, we felt we had seen some positive sides in Melbourne, even though we came back with zero points, and it’s good that there is another small sign today that we are heading towards the right direction.

“It’s only Friday, but this is where we are,” he concluded.