Leclerc bows to Sainz strength, focused on qualifying pace

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Charles Leclerc admits that his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz is currently “doing a better job” getting the most out of the Scuderia’s car, especially in qualifying in which the Monegasque usually excels.

Save for the opening race in Bahrain where Leclerc qualified on the front row, the latter has trailed Sainz in the Saturday afternoon exercise.

In Japan last time out, Leclerc concluded qualifying’s shootout a lowly 8th while Sainz was 4th, with the Spaniard also outpacing his teammate on race day on his way to his third consecutive podium in three races, a run that obviously includes his dominant win in the Australian Grand Prix.

“I think it’s as simple as he’s doing a better job,” said Leclerc, speaking in Shanghai on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.

“In Bahrain it’s difficult to compare because on my side I was facing issues and I think it was a very strong weekend apart from that, on my side. However in the last two races he’s just been stronger.

“So it’s up to me now to work, especially in the qualifying phase, which is normally a strength. I’ve been struggling to put the lap together.

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"It’s a very fine line to get it right or completely wrong on the out-lap and getting the tyres in the right window and for now I have been struggling more than what Carlos has done.

“He’s driving at a very high level, which I think is great for the team. It’s great for me as well. I’ve been working a lot on that and normally when I work on points I’m quite confident on improving pretty quickly. So I’m not worried, but obviously now I need to show that on track starting from tomorrow in qualifying.”

Addressing Ferrari’s prospects in Shanghai, Leclerc reckons that Red Bull will retain the upper hand but the Scuderia has undeniably inched closer to its Milton Keynes-based rival this season.

“On paper I think it’s a track where we could be a bit stronger compared to Suzuka,” he said. “But we’ll just approach it the same way.

“I still think that Red Bull will have the upper hand this weekend and we’ll just have to focus on ourselves because it can be very easy, as we’ve seen, especially in qualifying in Suzuka, if you don’t do a good job on Saturday and then you don’t [start] from fourth to fifth, but you go from fourth to eighth.”

Leclerc highlighted the importance of quickly getting up to speed this weekend given the event’s Sprint format which will provide teams with just a single 60-minute practice session to finalize their car’s set-up.

“It’s going to be very important, especially on a sprint weekend, we’ve got two qualifying [sessions] this weekend, to extract the maximum out of the car on both,” he said.

“Then in the race I think we are quite strong this year.”

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