Charles Leclerc believes Ferrari can take the “upper hand” over Mercedes in the fight for second in the Constructors’ Championship.
The Scuderia closed the gap to Mercedes to 20 points in the battle for ‘best of the rest’ behind Red Bull in the team standings, after the Milton Keynes-based team wrapped up Constructors’ glory with six races to spare in Japan on Sunday.
But Leclerc put in a strong showing to finish fourth, with team-mate Carlos Sainz sixth, reducing Ferrari’s arrears by four to the Silver Arrows as the battle intensifies for second place.
Charles Leclerc hints at Ferrari strength as Mercedes battle heats up
Ferrari looked to have the stronger package all weekend around Suzuka compared to Mercedes, though the strength of McLaren meant it was a battle for third and fourth fastest car on the road.
Leclerc and Sainz worked hard to keep Lewis Hamilton and George Russell at bay, with Sainz able to overtake Russell in the final stint to take P6.
But while Leclerc is expecting an extremely close battle from now until the end of the season, he believes Ferrari have taken lessons from recent weeks that could help give them the edge in that fight.
“I mean, they are strong and especially in the race today, they were on it,” Leclerc told Sky F1 after the race when asked about Mercedes’ performance.
“They put us a bit under a bit of pressure towards the end, splitting the cars too, that was an interesting strategy.
“So they are strong in the race, [but] especially in qualifying, it’s a bit more inconsistent, but it’s going to be a very close fight because we are a bit more inconsistent in the race, they are a bit more inconsistent in qualifying.
“But I have a feeling inside me that we’ve learned a few things in the last weekend that hopefully will give us the upper hand for the rest of the season.”
Team boss Fred Vasseur agrees that Ferrari’s fight this year is now with Mercedes, with the difference between second and third in the Constructors’ standings carrying millions of dollars in prize money alongside the sporting caché of finishing above your rivals.
The Ferrari team principal believes his team are moving forward compared to Mercedes, and it will be an extremely close battle for the remaining races.
“I think that we were couple of hundredths behind McLaren in quali and they started in clean air and they were a bit faster than us all over the weekend,” Vasseur explained.
“But at this kind of track we probably need to do a step forward, but we are already focused on Merc today and we are doing a step forward, taking four points [out of their lead]. That it will be the fight until the end.”