Charles Leclerc ‘surprised’ with pole after aiming to only beat Aston Martin and Mercedes

Sam Cooper
Charles Leclerc points to the Ferrari badge. Baku, April 2023.

Charles Leclerc points to the Ferrari badge after setting pole position at the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc admitted he was surprised with his pole position having initially aimed to beat only Aston Martin and Mercedes.

Leclerc produced his best qualifying session of the season to pip Max Verstappen to pole position by 0.188 seconds, the first time a non-Red Bull driver has done so in 2023.

It could hardly have come at a better time for the Monégasque with Leclerc currently sitting P10 in the Drivers’ standings, having failed to finish in two of the opening three grands prix.

But even with the improvements made during the three-week break, Leclerc admitted that the goal was just to out-qualify the Aston Martin and Mercedes cars.

“For sure, I’m surprised,” he said. “We came into the weekend thinking that it will be a great weekend if we are in front of Aston and Mercedes in qualifying and at the end we are on pole. So it’s a really good surprise.

“We must not forget that our race pace may be still behind the Red Bulls so it’s going to be difficult to keep the lead but that’s the target and I’m really, really happy with the lap.

“It’s a very challenging weekend overall for drivers because [there was] very little time to practise. We only had FP1 and then you need to be straight on it but the feeling was good since the start so [I’m] really, really happy.”

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The unique nature of the updated sprint format means Leclerc and Ferrari have yet to do a lap on the medium tyre, suspected to be the strongest for Sunday’s race, and Leclerc stated it was important to be in the groove early on during qualifying for the sprint.

“It’s going to be challenging because we haven’t run the medium yet so it’s annoying,” the 25-year-old said. “Qualifying will be the first time and we need to be on it because we only have one set so no room for mistake.

“But again, the pace is strong so hopefully we can learn in Q1 and Q2 and then push during Q3 and then we will know if the car is good.”