Leclerc hoping Ferrari can 'create a surprise' in Qatar

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Charles Leclerc hopes that Ferrari's preparations for this weekend's Sprint format event in Qatar will allow the Scuderia to create a "positive surprise", although the Monegasque is wary of another strong challenge from McLaren.

Ferrari has enjoyed an upswing in form in the back half of the F1 season as Carlos Sainz's win in Singapore proved.

But the team also enjoyed a good result in Japan last time out, where it introduced a new floor on its SF-23 and where Leclerc finished fourth, just off the podium.

However, McLaren's duo of drivers were able to outrace their Ferrari counterparts although they were still no match for Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

In Qatar, drivers will take to a resurfaced track this weekend, a change that could be a performance factor on race day in terms of tyre degradation.

Asked if the new surface is likely to have an impact on Ferrari's pace at Lusail, Leclerc hesitated to provide a view on the topic.

"I really don’t know anymore because whenever I said something, the opposite happened during the weekend," he joked.

"I would expect a team like McLaren to be, again, very strong, because they’ve been super strong in the medium-high speed corners since they got the new upgrade, so I think they will be strong.

"And, hopefully, we’ll create a positive surprise. I think in all the Sprint Races so far this year have been quite positive for us, so I hope we had a good preparation and be on the good side of things for this weekend."

While Ferrari had the measure of Mercedes in Japan, the Italian outfit's gap to Red Bull remains significant.

But Leclerc feels more encouraged by his team's progress of late rather than discouraged by the sustained magnitude of Red Bull's advantage;

"On one side you always need to look at yourself, and I think that since Zandvoort we’ve learned a lot and on that we are happy," he explained.

"But, of course, we understand that Red Bull is still very far ahead, the McLaren when they are at their peak, they are extremely strong, like they were in Suzuka.

"All in all we are more happy with what we’ve learned than depressed with the difference for Red Bull, because I think that with what we’ve learned we can make a significant step in the future.

"And we hope to close the gap to Red Bull as soon as possible."

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