Charles Leclerc warns ‘stronger’ Carlos Sainz amid growing Ferrari driver choice scrutiny

Jamie Woodhouse
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz embrace after Ferrari's one-two finish at the 2024 Australian Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz embrace.

Charles Leclerc admits that Carlos Sainz, the Ferrari driver to be dropped for Lewis Hamilton, is just “stronger” than him at the moment, but he is certainly not accepting defeat.

With Ferrari making the pre-F1 2024 call to sign seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton as a 2025 replacement for Sainz, that decision is being called into question with Sainz securing the upper hand over Leclerc in the early stages of the season.

Charles Leclerc identifies weakness versus ‘stronger’ Carlos Sainz

Sainz has been on the podium in every race he has contested so far, the crowning achievement being his dominant victory in Australia, though it is actually one-lap pace where Leclerc feels he has the most work to do heading into the Chinese Grand Prix, having recovered to P4 from his P8 grid slot last time out at Suzuka.

And so while Leclerc has no problem admitting that Sainz has been the better Ferrari driver over recent races, he warns that he is ready to go about changing that.

“I think it’s as simple as he’s doing a better job,” Leclerc admitted in the driver press conference ahead of the Chinese GP.

“In Bahrain it’s difficult to compare because on my side I was facing issues and I think it was a very strong weekend apart from that, on my side. However, in the last two races he’s just been stronger.

“So it’s up to me now to work, especially in the qualifying phase, which is normally a strength. I’ve been struggling to put the lap together. It’s a very fine line to get it right or completely wrong on the out-lap and getting the tyres in the right window and for now I have been struggling more than what Carlos has done.

“He’s driving at a very high level, which I think is great for the team. It’s great for me as well. I’ve been working a lot on that and normally when I work on points I’m quite confident on improving pretty quickly. So I’m not worried, but obviously now I need to show that on track starting from tomorrow in qualifying.”

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Formula 1 has returned to the Shanghai International Circuit for the first time since 2019, but drivers will not be afforded the luxury of time to get to grips with the track once more, as this marks the first F1 Sprint weekend of the season.

So, with just one hour of practice before heading into Sprint qualifying, Leclerc is really going to find his one-lap performance being put to the test.

“It’s going to be very important, especially on a sprint weekend, we’ve got two qualifying [sessions] this weekend, to extract the maximum out of the car on both,” Leclerc admitted.

“Then in the race I think we are quite strong this year.”

Ferrari head into the Chinese GP 21 points behind Constructors’ Championship leaders Red Bull.

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