Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc cut a chipper figure after practice at Albert Park, feeling the Scuderia had made a clear step in the right direction on Friday.
While Leclerc finished second on the timesheets in second practice in Australia, it was a largely unrepresentative FP2 session as rain arrived to compromise on-track running.
Leclerc had finished the first practice session in fifth, half a second behind the pace-setter Max Verstappen, and just over a tenth clear of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz.
Despite the restricted running, which wasn’t helped by a red flag during FP1 due to circuit GPS data failing, Leclerc felt Ferrari had made a step forward with the time put in on Friday after evaluating different setup options.
Charles Leclerc: It was our most positive practice of the season
“Quite a bit, I think we did quite a lot of scans in terms of setup direction again,” he said, when asked about his workload on Friday.
“I feel like the feeling is a bit better than the other races. So that is positive – it is probably our most positive FP2 of the season, which doesn’t mean much, but at least it’s a Friday that finishes on a positive note. So now we need to work, do another step in the right direction tomorrow and, hopefully, we’ll be a bit closer to the Red Bulls tomorrow, and especially after tomorrow!”
With Ferrari’s single-lap pace not far off Red Bull’s last time out in Saudi Arabia, Leclerc believes the Scuderia will still be in a position to be a headache for Verstappen and Sergio Perez during Saturday’s crucial Q3 session but may struggle over the race distance.
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“In quali, I think it will be close once again,” he said.
“In the race, unfortunately, with the rain, nobody really did the high-fuel runs. So, on that, we are going a little bit blind into the race. Maybe in FP3, we’ll see a [few] more long runs and we’ll manage to learn a bit more there.
“I think that with the different changes we’ve done today, maybe we find a little bit of performance. We must not forget that last time, we were really really struggling in the race and we won’t be finding this kind of lap time in the race but it should be a step in the right direction.”
Carlos Sainz: Fair to assume we’ll be a step behind in the race
Sainz broadly agreed with his teammate’s assessment of Friday’s track time, with the Spaniard saying Ferrari had spent first practice trying ‘very different things’ on the cars.
Asked whether he shared Leclerc’s optimism about his team’s performance, Sainz said: “I think we’re gonna have to wait till tomorrow to confirm that because, obviously, practice is practice.
“But we did use that FP1 to try some very different things on the car to see if we can find a bit of performance for the package that we have now and we did seem to understand a bit better and find a couple of things that could help us for the future. But, until we put it in a proper quali lap, we will not know.”
Like Leclerc, Sainz believes fighting with Red Bull in qualifying is likely, but racing with them may be difficult.
“It’s fair to assume that, in quali, we will play with them,” he said.
“But then, in the race, we should assume also that we will be one step behind like we were in Jeddah.
“With the steps that we are planning to do and that we want to do from the things that we’ve tried to discover this weekend, hopefully that becomes a better situation.
“It’s little steps at the moment until the big upgrade …doesn’t come, but we are trying to do small steps and pure optimisation with what we have, which we know is not a lot to fight for or maybe not enough to fight for wins right now.
“But it’s enough to, if we nail everything, to try and get in the top three or maybe the top five. So we focus on that and maximise what we have for the moment.”