Charles Leclerc said that his Ferrari SF21 is feeling “much better” than last year in Imola, so his FP2 crash was a small setback.
This represents Ferrari’s first home race of the 2021 season, and they have some making up to do after a difficult 2020 campaign, even if Leclerc was able to finish P5 in Imola last year.
This time around though, he feels confident in the SF21, and a late crash into the barriers during FP2 was just a minor setback.
“It has not been an easy day on my side, but the performance has been great for me today,” he told reporters in the paddock.
“FP1 unfortunately we didn’t do the first part of it for a small problem, but then the car felt good, and then FP2 very competitive. We got our lap time deleted for very small margins in Turn 9 but most important is not to do the same in quali.
“But the performance was there also in the race pace too, it was good, but then I did a mistake in the last corner and went into the wall, but better doing it now than in the race.”
Ferrari showed clear signs of improvement with a double-points finish at the first round in Bahrain, and now Imola suggests the Scuderia have found further gains in performance. Carlos Sainz ended FP2 within three tenths of Valtteri Bottas in P1.
But Leclerc said this must be all be down to the track as no changes have been made to the SF21, yet the balance compared to Ferrari’s last visit to Imola is much improved.
“It’s all track and temperature specific because we haven’t changed the car at all,” he confirmed.
“But the car feels a lot better in those conditions, the car feels great this weekend even if we compare to last year.
“I like the balance, it felt much better this weekend, the grip is good and I have quite a bit of confidence in the car.
“It feels better than last year, then we have to wait and see tomorrow when we are all pushing in qualifying because for now it’s difficult to believe we are so close to the top teams, and I’m pretty sure they have a bit more to come tomorrow.”
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) April 16, 2021
For Sainz this was his first chance to drive the SF21 outside of Bahrain, and like his team-mate has plenty of confidence heading into Saturday.
“We feel we are a bit more competitive here than in Bahrain, so it follows the trend of the car last year where we saw it was a bit more competitive in Imola than in Bahrain too,” he explained.
“And on my side it was also an important day because it was the first time I tried the Ferrari outside of Bahrain and it was good to have a first feel of how the car feels on this different tarmac, different temperatures.
“I had a positive feeling today, I think the car particularly in these temperatures seemed to be working much better. This kind of tarmac I don’t know exactly what it is but you can feel some more grip and I’m enjoying it out there.
“I’m still not exploiting it fully because I don’t know where the limit is yet, I haven’t reached it, but for that we have practice and we have tomorrow to try and get a little bit closer to it.”
AlphaTauri also enjoyed a very strong Friday with Pierre Gasly finishing FP2 only 0.078s shy of Bottas.
So, even if Mercedes and Red Bull do pull away as expected, Sainz expects AlphaTauri to very much be in the fight with Ferrari and McLaren.
“AlphaTauri confirmed that they are in the fight with the McLarens and us, it will be again circuit dependent, but they look like they are right up there with us this weekend,” said the Spaniard.
“It’s going to be an interesting fight, and it’s exciting because everything is still a bit new and we don’t know where everyone is going to be.”