Charles Leclerc issues four-word warning after key discovery made at Japanese GP

Jamie Woodhouse
Charles Leclerc on the grid

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc knows he is seen as a “very fast driver in qualifying”, but it is this area of his game which he feels has been causing him issues.

Leclerc was left perplexed on Saturday at Suzuka as he managed only P8 on the grid, though the anticipated race pace of the Ferrari shone through as Leclerc battled his way to a P4 finish, following Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz across the line.

Charles Leclerc warns ‘I get better quickly’ as qualifying issue identified

While Leclerc described his pace and one-stop strategy at Suzuka as “amazing”, its impact was limited by those qualifying struggles, with Leclerc looking to his out-laps as the area of his game which must improve to address this weakness.

“I think as a driver you always have to do a step back and look at the weekend as a whole,” he told Sky F1 after the Japanese Grand Prix.

“There’s one thing that we could have done better, which is the way we are preparing the tyres for the qualifying lap, because as I said yesterday, I was happy with the lap, but I just didn’t have enough grip available. And this is mostly coming from the lap before trying to get the tyres in the right window.

“And from that moment that puts us in a very difficult situation for the rest of the weekend, because starting P8, you cannot do much more.

“We did an amazing strategy, amazing tyre management, amazing pace, but it’s just not enough when you’re starting P8.

“It’s not very often in my career that I had to focus on qualifying pace because it’s normally one of my strengths, but Australia and here, this is where I’ve been struggling, so I will focus on that. But normally when I work on something, I get better quite quickly, so I’m confident I’ll make improvements quickly.

“I think I’ve always been described as a very fast driver in qualifying, not so much in the race.

“I think this year I’m not doing something crazy different, it’s just that we have a car that is much better in a race, that is much nicer on its tyres.

“We’ve been working on that and we think that we understood the direction in which we need to go to with the car in order for us to have an easier life in the race. So this year, I think we are seeing steps forward.

“But this shouldn’t hurt our qualifying performance, so I don’t think this is related to my struggles in the last two qualifying. I think that’s more me and the way we are building the temperature in the tyres on the out-lap and this I will look into it and try to understand what I can do better.” recommends

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Leclerc is the Ferrari driver with his seat secured for next season, as Sainz, who maintained his 100 per cent F1 2024 podium record at Suzuka, knows his spot is going to Lewis Hamilton for next year, yet Sainz has shone over Leclerc in these early stages of the season.

For that, Leclerc congratulates his team-mate, though reiterated that he can fix his weak areas quickly.

“Carlos has always been strong,” said Leclerc. “I think one race he was a little bit stronger, one race I was a little bit stronger. He’s been two races he’s been a bit stronger.

“And congratulations to him and he’s done a great job.

“And as I said, it’s very clear to me where I need to work. It’s mostly qualifying. Then in the race, Australia is very difficult to understand because we have different strategies here too, but I have no doubt that in the race the pace is there.

“It’s just that in qualifying I need to put everything together, but again, I am aware, I will work on that, and when I work on something, I get better at it quite quickly.”

Max Verstappen’s DNF in Australia opened the door for Sainz to take an impressive victory, though in Japan normal service was resumed as Verstappen headed a Red Bull 1-2 from team-mate Sergio Perez, their third such result of the season.

Leclerc admits that Red Bull are out of reach for now, though with the development war to come, he is not ruling out mounting a title challenge against Verstappen and Red Bull.

“For now they are too far ahead,” said Leclerc in reference to Red Bull, “but we are doing a really good job of maximising all the points since the beginning of the season.

“And when we’ll have the upgrades, maybe we’ll be able to challenge them and then maybe that will be the moment where we can put them under more pressure and hopefully take more and more points from them, and maybe we have a good surprise at the end of the year fighting with them for the World Championship, Constructors’.

“But I think realistically, for now, it’s a bit too optimistic. But we are not going to give up, we will keep focusing on ourselves, keep maximising the points as we’ve done in the beginning of the season.”

Red Bull’s lead over Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship stands at 21 points heading into Round 5 of the F1 2024 campaign in China.

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