Charles Leclerc says Scuderia Ferrari has some work to do ahead of Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, but it was a good start to the weekend at the Sochi Autodrom.
The Monegasque racer started Friday by pacing the first free practice session, ending just under a tenth of a second ahead of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, but the positions were reversed in the afternoon session, with the Dutchman finding an advantage of more than three-tenths of a second.
With the deficit to Verstappen in mind, Leclerc says there is time to find if is to go into Saturday’s Qualifying with a hope of securing his fourth consecutive pole position and his sixth of the season.
“It was quite a good day,” admitted Leclerc. “Although we have some work to do when it comes to our qualifying pace, our race pace was very positive.
“The track layout can be deceptive, as it has many similar corners. But it is tricky to set up the car, because the first and second sectors are quick and once you arrive in the third sector, the tyres are not in the best shape anymore. There is quite a difference in balance from the beginning to the end of the lap.
“You have to find a good compromise in the set-up, which will allow you to post the best lap time without sacrificing your race pace. We tested a bit in both directions today and I think we found our way.”
Leclerc says it is important Ferrari do not take their foot off the gas as both Red Bull and Mercedes AMG Motorsport both look strong this weekend in Russia.
“Our competitors are strong, and we have to keep working as hard as we possibly can to keep our momentum from the past few race weekends,” insisted Leclerc.
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel felt less satisfied with his day as he struggled to find a rhythm in the afternoon session, which left him down in fifth position overall, more than a second away from Verstappen’s pace setting time.
The German, who took his first race victory of 2019 last weekend in Singapore, feels there is more to come from him on Saturday once he finds the right balance with his car, but it was not a straightforward Friday for the four-time World Champion.
“My day was not perfect, as in the afternoon I struggled a bit to find the right balance and therefore I never got into a rhythm,” said Vettel. “I think we can do better tomorrow as we tried different things and now we need to decide what to keep and what to get rid of.
“I think we need to work more on the car and then we’ll see if we are competitive. It’s too early to tell what the pecking order is, and we will get a better idea of where we are tomorrow.
“I don’t know what the weather is doing, but the closer we can be to the front the better it is. Anyway, we have the tyres for whatever the situation might be. To summarise I think we can improve, in particular in terms of balance. I hope tomorrow we are on the good side of things.”