Leclerc 'feeling good' and determined to stay positive

Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) - Friday practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka - October 7 2022
© Ferrari

Charles Leclerc is coming into this weekend knowing that the Japanese Grand Prix could be the last time he remains in contention for the 2022 world championship.

The season started well for the Ferrari driver with two wins in the first three races, but since then he's only one again once while Max Verstappen has opened up a huge 104 points gap in the standings.

If the Red Bull driver scores just eight points more than Leclerc this weekend, it's the end of the title battle between them. It's why the Monegasque could have done with a better start to his Suzuka campaign than he got on Friday.

He was third fastest in a wet first practice despite a trip through the gravel at Spoon, but slumped to P11 in the later, longer FP2 after an early run-off which saw him narrowly escape hitting the barrier at turn 1.

“FP1 was fun! FP2 - no tyres left, so less fun,” he summarised, sounding by no means downbeat. “But overall it was quite a good day.

"While FP1 went well and I had a good feeling in the car, I can’t say much about FP2 as my tyres were completely worn out.

"FP2 was very, very difficult because the tyres were just completely done,” he told the media in the paddock at Suzuka after the end of practice. "But there’s plenty to learn from today for the race especially, so it’s a positive Friday.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75 leaves the pits. 07.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Practice

"The feeling with the car is good, we just need to put everything together tomorrow. But the feeling is good, so that’s positive.

"Let’s see tomorrow because conditions will change a lot," he added. "FP3 will be a very important session for us to adapt to the conditions as quickly as possible in preparation for qualifying."

His Ferrari team mate Carlos Sainz had a better day despite the rain and drizzle, starting in second place in FP1 behind Fernando Alonso and then sixth in the later session albeit 1.269s behind pace setter George Russell due to the inclement weather.

"It’s been a very wet Friday which normally means not a lot of running," Sainz said. "Not idea, but today the conditions were stable and we were able to test both the intermediates and the wet tyres.

Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) - Friday practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka - October 7 2022

© Ferrari

"That allows you to do a couple of tests that we never get to run in these conditions, so we managed to get a couple of tests done which are always interesting."

While some drivers decided on limited running in the wet, Sainz was keen to get out there with 15 laps in FP1 and 23 completed in the extended 90-minute FP2.

"I always run in the wet because I feel you can still learn something and you can always learn something from the car, from the driving, especially after a wet Singapore," he explained.

"I love it. That’s why it was important for me, after a difficult race in Singapore in these conditions, to really try and got back on top of the car today in the wet and see if I could find my rhythm again, which was important.

Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) - Friday practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka - October 7 2022

© Ferrari

"We’ve managed to learn a couple of things in these wet conditions so overall we can say it’s been a productive Friday. Now it’s time to prepare for qualifying tomorrow."

However Sainz acknowledged that it already looked like Red Bull have the upper-hand here, with Verstappen third quickest ahead of both Ferrari drivers.

“I think Red Bull are quick everywhere," he admitted. "Wet, dry, slow, fast circuits, straights, slow-speed. "They are quick everywhere with the package they have now.

"But we are also very quick, so it will be a matter of who nails the weekend and who has that last tenth, two-tenths advantage over the others.”

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