Charles Leclerc’s rare driving admission after ‘strange feeling’ in qualifying

Thomas Maher
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc has explained his subdued qualifying session in Melbourne.

Charles Leclerc has offered some insight into why he never looked able to challenge for pole position in Melbourne, unlike his Ferrari teammate.

While the returning Carlos Sainz proved able to take the fight to Red Bull throughout qualifying, topping Q1 and Q2, Charles Leclerc had to settle for fifth on the grid after a subdued session.

Charles Leclerc: I was confident strange feeling would disappear in qualifying

Having been bested by Sainz in Q1 and Q2, the Spaniard was able to challenge Max Verstappen to take a front-row grid slot for Sunday’s race in Melbourne.

In the other Ferrari, Leclerc could only manage fifth on the grid – a quarter of a second off the pace Sainz was able to extract and some half a second off the pole position time set by Verstappen.

The Monégasque abandoned his final run in Q3, having made an error at Turn 12 that he knew had instantly blown his lap.

Speaking to the media afterward, Leclerc explained how he had felt the feeling of his car getting away from him through practice.

“To be honest, I think it started from much earlier in the weekend, FP3 already I felt like it was going away a little bit from me,” he said when explaining the struggles he’s had over the weekend.

“But I was confident it would come back, the feeling, in qualifying, as is normally the case whenever we have a strange feeling in FP3.

“Then you put the new tires on in quali, low fuel, and everything comes alive again. Today it wasn’t the case.

“I struggled quite a lot with the front tyres until the last run in Q3, when I went very aggressive with the front wing to try something, and I went the other way.

“But, all in all, it hasn’t been a clean day for me. I haven’t been driving as well as yesterday. But tomorrow, the race is long and I’ll try to maximise everything.”

With Leclerc admitting he didn’t feel his driving to be of the same standard as on Friday, was the Ferrari driver looking for something from his car that wasn’t there?

“I think it’s a combination of both,” he said.

“The feeling wasn’t right. From FP3, it was much more difficult to have a clean lap.

“Yesterday, every lap I was doing, it was all clean, all good, and, today, there was either one axle or the other that could go away.

“That was mostly down to tyre preparation, and I don’t think I’ve done a great job on that today. That’s a snowball effect for the rest of the lap. That’s where I missed out.”

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Charles Leclerc: Targetting the win is difficult, Max Verstappen is too strong

But was pole position ever a realistic proposition for Leclerc? The Ferrari driver explained that, due to the pace shown by Red Bull, it wouldn’t have been hugely likely.

“Yesterday, I had a doubt,” he said.

“FP3, I had a big doubt when I saw that Red Bull started to put the engine on full power, and from Turn 7 to Turn 9, I think we were losing already three-tenths, so that was huge.

“Then, from that moment onwards, I thought that pole position might be difficult. But then, in Q1, we were very strong but, in the end, it wasn’t [there].”

While the single-lap pace may not have been there, the race pace of the Ferrari has looked strong in Melbourne – is there more cause for optimism for Leclerc when the lights go out for the Grand Prix itself?

“I think, realistically, it’s going to be difficult to target the win because Max is going to be too strong.

“Checo [Perez] might be a target, but they seem strong once again because they have more margin than we thought they had yesterday.

“But, all in all, my target is to try and come back and be on the podium, and if that’s beating Checo, we’ll try.”

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