Charles Leclerc rules Ferrari out of pole contention at Bahrain GP
Charles Leclerc does not believe Ferrari quite have the pace needed for pole in Bahrain, while their long-run pace still needs work.
Ferrari found themselves unable to light up the timing screens on Friday as the F1 2023 season got underway with FP1 and FP2 in Bahrain.
Leclerc was the lead Ferrari driver come the end of FP2, but in representative conditions under the lights, the deficit was 0.46 seconds to Fernando Alonso who topped the session in the Aston Martin.
And while he suspects Aston Martin may not be quite as pacey come qualifying, Leclerc nonetheless feels pole is beyond Ferrari, while he also suspects Red Bull are “quite a bit ahead” of the pack.
Reflecting on his day at the wheel of the SF-23, Leclerc said: “Let’s say that the feeling is better than testing.
“On my side testing has been very, very inconsistent in the way we run the car because we were testing loads of things. So I didn’t have much time to put the car to my liking, which I did today. And I think that went really well.
“On the other hand, it seems that again, what we thought was confirmed, Red Bull seemed quite a bit ahead compared to everyone, Aston seems very strong too. I maybe think that Aston is a bit quicker than what they will be tomorrow.
“But let’s wait and see, for now we need to focus on ourselves, try to gain a bit of performance overnight and hopefully have a great qualifying.
“I don’t think we have the performance maybe for pole, but we can be in the mix, and whenever we have races that are a bit more difficult, we should be here and try and take every opportunity, so that’s what we’ll try to do this weekend.”
Of course pole is one thing, but as Ferrari found out all too often against Red Bull in 2022, it is over a race distance where the car must perform to bring the points home.
But, while Leclerc says there is still “a bit of margin” for Ferrari to tap into, he does believe that race pace is an area which requires further attention.
“That’s where I think we have the most work to do,” Leclerc claimed.
“But again, it is very difficult to know what the others are running, so we know what we are running, and we know there’s a bit of margin, but we need to wait and see for Sunday. But, there’s still things to improve.”
As for Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz, his FP1 involved a spin at Turn 10 which wrecked the medium C2 tyres that he hoped to get through in that session, which he believes then had a knock-on effect for FP2 where he finished down in P14, a second off the pace.
Sainz felt he went the opposite way to Leclerc in that he lost the good feeling for the SF-23 which he had during testing, but is confident of a strong qualifying if he can rediscover that.
“We were just testing some things in the car, trying to finalise a few things that we wanted to try in FP1, scrubbing the medium tyres which we wanted to get rid of in FP1,” said Sainz as he explained that FP1 spin.
“It didn’t go to plan, clearly it wasn’t intentional, but it was a test that went wrong and we came back for FP2. I lost a bit of track time, lost a bit of rhythm, and probably paid the price in FP2.
“Still the car doesn’t feel the same as it did in testing, so we’re putting an eye into what it could be. The track conditions have changed a bit. We’ll have a good look overnight and try to put it together tomorrow.
“I hope we can do a step tomorrow and get ourselves back up there. If the car feels like it did in testing, and I manage to put a good lap together… obviously the field looks very tight, and it’s impossible to predict, but [it can] definitely [be] better than today.”
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As for the talk-of-the-town Aston Martin team, Sainz is not certain if they are fast enough to actually get the better of Red Bull this weekend, but does believe that they are a genuine contender at the front.
“I think we all said that we expect them to be in the fight,” he said. “I’m not sure if they have enough to beat the Red Bull – who knows? But they definitely seem [to be] in the fight.”