Leclerc suspects rivals hid their true potential on Friday


Charles Leclerc defended Ferrari's performance in today's qualifying session for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, saying that it wasn't a case of the team underperforming so much as it was their rivals having hidden their real pace.

Leclerc had been quickest in both of Friday's free practice sessions, but slipped to fourth place in a messy final practice topped by McLaren duo Oscar Piastri.

And when it came to qualifying it seemed there was no stopping Red Bull's Max Verstappen from taking his eighth consecutive pole position, with Piastri and Norris again ahead of Leclerc and his team mate Carlos Sainz.

But Leclerc insisted that Ferrari hadn't faded overnight, and that it was a case of Red Bull and McLaren having not shown their true hand in yesterday's sessions.

“I’m a bit disappointed, just today there wasn’t much more in the car," he admitted to the media in the paddock at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari after qualifying.

“FP1 and FP2 went really well, however we never know what are the fuel levels of the others," he pointed out. "I think they hid their game a bit more than what we thought.

"That ended up by just having not enough performance in the car to do better today," he continued. “It’s a shame, but today was the best we could do.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-24 and Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-24 in the pits. 18.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

"When you have upgrades on the car, when you are at [Ferrari’s] home, you obviously want to do really well," he said. Tomorrow we will focus on maximising the result, but the target remains the win.

“The car is definitely good in terms of race pace," he insisted. "However it’s one of the most difficult tracks to overtake on.

"Also I don’t quite understand why the DRS [activation zone] is shorter this year, which is going to make overtakes a bit more difficult.

“But strategy is still there, the pace is there, so my target is still the win," he said. "If we come short of this, it’s life, but we will have tried at least.”

For his part, Sainz said he wasn't surprised by the rapid pace of the McLaren pair this weekend, following on from Norris' landmark win last time out in Miami.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-24. 18.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Staley / XPB Images

"Looking in detail the whole weekend McLaren have looked a bit stronger than us in single-lap pace on the softs," he said. “They were just not putting a lap together [on Friday]. But we knew they were going to be difficult to beat in quali.

“Then we had Max who obviously always gets there," he sighed. "Even if they run the engine turned down always in practice, and they look like they are struggling, we know Red Bull always have a lot to come, come qualifying.

Sainz admitted that he had struggled with the soft tyre today which is why he ended up some way off his team mate's time.

"I’m a lot quicker with the medium and with the hard tyres than what I am with softs, which is something I need to personally look into," he said. Apart from that, all good, it’s more or less where we expected to be.

“I think the target needs to be the podium tomorrow," he said when asked what his expectations were for tomorrow's race given his starting position on the third row of the grid. "And if something happens in front, get that win.”

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