Less than a week on from taking his maiden Formula 1 victory, Charles Leclerc headed the free practice times in both Friday sessions at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, with the Monegasque admitting it was an ‘amazing’ feeling to drive in front of Scuderia Ferrari’s adoring Tifosi fans.
Leclerc comes to Italy on the back of a hard-fought win at Spa-Francorchamps last Sunday in an event overshadowed by the tragic passing of his friend Anthoine Hubert in the FIA Formula 2 feature race the day before, and the support around the Monza track was amazing for him to see.
“It was a special feeling to drive for Ferrari in Monza for the first time,” admitted Leclerc. “I could actually see the Tifosi cheering for us from the grandstands while I was driving, and it is just amazing to be here.”
Despite setting session topping times in both sessions, Leclerc felt neither session would be truly representative of what possibly could be the pecking order this weekend as both sessions were affected by rain and red flags. However, he has confidence that he can continue the strong form into Saturday and attack for his fourth pole position of 2019.
“The day went quite well. While it is nice to be quickest, I don’t think that we have a real picture of the whole situation yet due to the tricky conditions we faced on track today,” said Leclerc. “In FP1, we were very competitive, especially on the intermediates, which is a positive.
“However, the lap times on the dry tyres in FP2 are not really representative and we have to keep working and understand where we can gain some more time. Our competitors are quick and we are still to see their full potential.
“The car felt good. In terms of race pace, we are not yet at the point we were in Spa. On the qualifying pace, we also have some work to do and we will give our all to do a good job tomorrow.”
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel was eighth fastest in the morning session and third fastest in the afternoon, with the German feeling the first session in particular was scrappy due to the stop/start nature of it and the inability to get into a rhythm as a result.
“The day was ok, but we can still get more out of the car,” said Vettel. “FP1 was a bit of a scrappy session, with all the teams heading out as soon as the light went green after each red flag.
“We didn’t have the usual rhythm of a Friday, but the main thing is that we got some decent laps in and we know where our weaknesses are and what to focus on.”
Vettel admits there is still work to be done on Saturday to prepare for Qualifying, where the out-laps are set to be important as drivers jostle for position and fight for every bit of slipstream they can get.
“For qualifying, we have to see what the conditions will be like, how careful we might need to be on the out lap, and how the tyres will work,” said Vettel. “Then we will take it from there.
“It is nice if you get a tow around here, and the priority is to get one perfect lap. Ahead of the race, you just want to improve the car and make it faster overall, because you need a car that allows you to have a good performance while also saving the tyres.
“We have some work to do, and I know that I can find more for tomorrow.”