Charles Leclerc was not expecting “the lap of my life” to put him on the front row in Abu Dhabi, after close calls with Q1 and Q2 elimination made him fully send it.
Max Verstappen had struggled for much of the weekend in his Red Bull RB19, though qualifying brought about an emphatic end to those issues as he topped all three stages on his way to pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The battle was on though for the second spot on the front row, Leclerc pulling a stellar lap out of the bag, only 0.139s down on Verstappen’s pole time, to put his Ferrari in that P2 grid slot.
Charles Leclerc unleashes “lap of my life”
When speaking to Sky F1 after qualifying, Leclerc was asked how tricky it was to deliver a lap like that, considering he had complained of oversteer and understeer issues in Q1.
The apparent lack of performance meant he decided to just go for it and live with the result, which as it so happened, was a very good one.
“It was very difficult,” Leclerc admitted in regards to putting that P2 time together.
“Q1 we were really close of not making it through, Q2 we were very close of not making it through. So then in Q3, I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try and do the lap of my life’ and it kind of worked out because being on the front row was definitely not something that was on my cards going into qualy, so it’s a really good surprise.”
George Russell is the highest-starting Mercedes driver in P4 as the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes for the runner-up spot in the Constructors’ Championship reaches its climax.
The gap is only four points in Mercedes’ favour, so how Leclerc would love to secure that P2 spot for Ferrari by taking victory in Abu Dhabi.
He knows that is an unrealistic prospect, though carries the optimism to believe it is possible.
“If we win the race tomorrow then that will be unbelievable,” he said.
“Not because it means a lot to me, obviously any win means a lot to me, but on a weekend like this, if we managed to pull off a win, then that will be incredible.
“But for now, it doesn’t seem realistic, because the long-run pace, Red Bull is going to be stronger and McLaren is probably going to be stronger, Mercedes looks a bit stronger.
“But again, this is being realistic, then in my head, I’m always an optimistic person and I still believe that the win is possible tomorrow.”
Currently P7 in the Drivers’ Championship, Leclerc could finish as high as P4, though he has already made it clear that he has no interest now in the Drivers’ Championship.
Instead, he is laser-focused on bagging P2 for Ferrari.
Asked how much it would mean for the team to finish P2 in the Constructors’, Leclerc replied: “That would be really important, that’s all that matters to me.
“As I’ve said, in the Drivers’ Championship, there’s nothing that excites me now. The Constructors’ though, the second place will be a great reward for the hard work the team has done in what was such a difficult season.
“Everybody has pushed like crazy to bring the upgrades earlier. The second half of the season has been much more positive.
“Obviously since Japan also with the upgrade, myself I feel much more at ease with the car, which is a good sign for next year.
“So I would love to finish the season on a high and the team deserve that second place in the Constructors’, so I’ll get it done.”
Russell’s Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton starts P11 in Abu Dhabi, while Carlos Sainz in the sister Ferrari has a lot of work to do come Sunday, having suffered a shock Q1 exit.