Although he was second quickest in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc admits that doesn’t give him much encouragement for the race as Red Bull are “quite far ahead”.
Leclerc clocked the second fastest time in Saturday evening’s qualifying at the Jeddah circuit, the Ferrari driver’s 1:28.420 some 0.15s slower than Sergio Perez’s pole position time.
But given that the main Red Bull protagonist, Max Verstappen, wasn’t involved in the pole position shoot-out after his driveshaft failed in Q2, Leclerc concedes the gap to Red Bull is still huge.
Verstappen had set the pace in Q1, half a second up on Perez with Leclerc six-tenths down in that session.
Asked if his P2 time in the final qualifying segment gave him encouragement, the Monégasque driver admitted: “Not that much.
“In the lap, I’m really, really happy. It was really on the limit.
“On the other hand, I feel like Red Bull are quite far ahead. And that is our goal, to beat them. So there’s still a lot of work to do.
“Having said that, I think it’s a bit better than what we expected for this qualifying session. We expected to be a bit further back. But there’s a lot of work to do.”
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He can’t even say exactly what is wrong with his SF-23, it’s just slow.
“If you ask me to pinpoint one thing,” he said. “it’s very difficult. It’s just that we were quite slow. And yeah, just overall grip to be honest.”
He’ll line up 12th on the Jeddah grid due to engine penalties having already taken a third Control Electronics for the season.
But while he is hoping that, unlike in Bahrain, his race pace is better than his qualifying performance, he admits it won’t be easy to overtake at the street circuit.
“I think our race pace is stronger this weekend. So this is a good thing,” he said.
“Then, I don’t know how easy it is going to be to overtake on this track because the midfield seems to be all extremely close in terms of race pace. And if you have a DRS train, then it makes things very difficult.
“But I’ll give my best, try to come back to the front as quickly as possible. And we’ll see what happens.”