Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed pole position for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, but feels Red Bull have the advantage for the race.
Despite testing suggesting Red Bull and Ferrari were the strongest teams, neither wanted to embrace the tag of being favourites heading into the Bahrain GP.
But come qualifying, any pace being hidden needed to come out, the end result being Ferrari and Red Bull very evenly matched over one lap.
It was Leclerc though who claimed pole for the 10th time in his career, just over a tenth of a second ahead of Verstappen.
He suspects the advantage will swing back in Red Bull’s favour on race day though, and by a larger margin.
“I think on race pace Red Bull are ahead by two, three tenths,” he told Sky Italia.
“But let’s hope to have a nice surprise like today, to have a good race and win.”
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Although Leclerc claimed two pole positions in 2021, the new season feels different with Ferrari starting out seemingly very much a title contender for the first time since 2019.
Leclerc explained it had not been an easy road back to this point, but always had faith Ferrari would return to the top.
“Obviously, the last two years for the team have been extremely difficult after 2019. We had two very difficult years when I knew it was just a matter of time before we got back to the top because we were working well – but until you actually do it, you always have the doubt,” he told reporters in Bahrain.
“And finally, this season we managed to make a car that is back to where it deserves, which is to at least be in the mix for the top positions.
“And today the car was great – it wasn’t an easy qualifying session, very difficult to keep the tyres in the right window and to actually put a lap together. I struggled quite a bit during qualifying, but the last Q3 lap was good enough for pole so I’m very happy about this.
“Again, and with Carlos [Sainz] also last year, it’s been a very difficult year and it’s not easy after 2019. But I think we reacted in the best way possible and during the [pre-season] tests we straight away felt there was a good feeling with the car.”
Sainz revealed after Bahrain qualifying he is still “really struggling” to get to grips with the F1-75 but nonetheless claimed P3 on the grid, his best time only 0.006s slower than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Additional reporting by Luca Brambilla