Tricky but promising start for Sainz and Leclerc in Monaco

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It was a day of mixed fortunes for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in Monaco on Friday, with Ferrari looking the closest challengers to Red bull for this week's win but beset by troubles of their own.

Sainz started the day brushing the wall at the beginning of FP1, but he survived that encounter without incurring any damage and went on to top the timesheets with a lap of 1:13.372s, 0.338s faster than anyone else.

He was also looking in form in the afternoon second practice session, and was third fastest with just under 20 minutes to go when he made a mistake and hit the wall - much harder this time - in turn 16 to bring out the red flags.

"Obviously it was not ideal to finish the session in that way, after a small miscalculation trying to find the limit," he acknowledged. "Sorry to the team and the mechanics for the extra work.

“It was a very small crash, to be honest,” he added. “I just clipped the wall on the inside of 16. A typical Monaco miscalculation.

"But in terms of confidence and in terms of lap time, I’ve been on it the whole day so a small miscalculation in one corner is not going to affect it.”

Despite the setback, Sainz' earlier time meant he finished the day still in P3 and looking strong for Saturday once the car he repaired overnight by the Ferrari mechanics.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23 crashed in the second practice session. 26.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

"In general I think the day was positive," he concluded. "We were fast in both sessions and the car feels okay on track.

"There are still a couple of things I want to try tomorrow on the set-up to try and improve, but overall we are quite competitive," he said. "We’re on the right track to at least challenge for it.

"I think the Red Bull is still quick, they’re still leading after today," he admitted. “We’ve been closer than any other weekend and we hope that we can at least give them a run for their money, but I think it’s still going to be tricky.”

Leclerc's day went in the opposite direction from that of his team mate. He struggled in the first session and was a disappointing fifth fastest, but rallied in the afternoon to finish in second just 0.065s off Max Verstappen.

"It was a bit of a difficult day as the car is not doing exactly what it is supposed to do," the local driver complained afterwards.

"We need to take a good look at the set-up on my car and then work on it to ensure I have the right feeling with it tomorrow."

Normally teams will spend a good portion of their practice time on long distance simulations to test for tyre wear and degradation, but Leclerc admitted that the unique nature of Monaco's street circuit made that pointless.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23. 26.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

"Here it’s all about qualifying so we didn’t do any race runs, just focusing on preparing for qualifying in the best way possible," he said. "Qualifying is everything here

“There’s lots of talk about my last race but qualifying has always been one of my strengths so I’m not worried, I’ll go for it and let’s see what happens.”

It puts an extra emphasis on tomorrow's qualifying session, with the grid order likely to define how the race on Sunday will go.

The prevailing wisdom is that Red Bull's superior straight line pace will be neutralised in Monaco giving Ferrari's better slow corner handling a chance to deliver the team's first victory of the season.

"We are okay, but Aston Martin and Red Bull seem to be very quick as well, so we still need to do a step forward," Leclerc acknowledged. I don’t think we have the best car. Again, Red Bull is faster, Aston Martin is thereabouts. But if we do a great job and I put everything into my lap, then everything is possible.”

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