Charles Leclerc might have ended Saturday’s qualifying session for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix second quickest behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, but he’s still concerned by the rival team’s performance advantage.
After making changes to their power units and running with the engine power turned down on Friday, qualifying was the first opportunity to see how the SF-23 really compared with the RB19 at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Leclerc and his team mate Carlos Sainz were in the top six in the opening two rounds of qualifying, and Leclerc ended up in P2 in Q3 after Max Verstappen was sidelined with mechanical failure.
- Read also: Perez on pole in Jeddah after Verstappen driveshaft failure in qualifying
Leclerc was still 0.155s off Perez pace at the chequered flag, while Perez had been 0.483s slower than Verstappen in the first round before Verstappen was sidelined.
“Happy? Yes and no,” Leclerc said in the post-0qualifying interviews held in parc ferme. “On one hand, I think it’s been a very difficult weekend in terms of pace for us.
“But I’m very happy about my lap,” he acknowledged. “I think I put everything in it. It was really, really on the limit.
“On the other hand Red Bull are on another planet and we are struggling a little bit,” he admitted. “So we need to keep pushing, but that’s what we are doing as a team.”
Even though he finished qualifying in second, Leclerc will take a ten place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race after the team had to change his electronic control unit coming into this weekend. It means he will start from P12 tomorrow.
“Tomorrow is not going to be easy,” he agreed. “I have a ten place grid penalty so we’ll be starting a little bit further back. But we’ll focus on the race and hopefully come back in the front as quickly as possible.”
He will at least still be ahead of his main title rival, with Verstappen expected to line up in 15th assuming that the repairs to the RB19 don’t inadvertently incur any additional penalties.
But Leclerc will be up against it to stay ahead of Verstappen when the lights go out, and may have to be content to follow in the Red Bull’s tyre tracks as it scythes its way through the field.
“The race pace looks quite good,” Leclerc predicted. “But it’s very difficult to compare, because in FP2 everybody has a very different program.
“So, we’ll see. It seemed a little bit better, but it’s not going to be easy because I feel like everybody is very close in the race pace.”
Leclerc’s team mate Carlos Sainz will be ahead of him on the grid in fourth and will be a complicating factor for both Verstappen and Leclerc seeking to recover lost ground.
“Not the best of qualifyings from my side to be honest,” said the Spaniard. “I struggled with the tyres into the first few corners and lost the time there. The rest of the lap felt good, but it wasn’t enough to make up for sector 1. My bad.
“However the weekend is not over and we have the pace to fight for a step on the podium, so we’ll reset tonight and come back at it tomorrow in the race.”
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