Charles Leclerc admitted Qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a tough affair, although he was able to out-qualify Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel once again.
Leclerc was unable to do two runs in Q3 on Saturday after those ahead of him back up so much, he was not able to start his lap before the chequered flag fell, missing out by around two seconds. Despite this, his first lap was still good enough for fourth fastest, which will become third on the grid once Valtteri Bottas’ grid penalty is applied.
With third place in the Championship still in his sights, Leclerc says he will be taking some risks to move forward as he bids to prevent Max Verstappen from ending the year in that position.
“Qualifying was tough today,” said Leclerc, who will start on the medium Pirelli tyre on Sunday. “The lap I did on the first run for fourth place was good, but you can always do better.
“It’s a shame that we didn’t manage to get back out in time to do another lap. Though pole seems to have been out of reach today, I do believe that we had an opportunity to have a better result, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
“Ahead of the race, we will mainly have to work on making improvements in the last sector. That’s where we lacked the most in terms of our performance.
“It is the last race of the year, the last chance to get third place back in the championship, which will not be easy. I will have to take some risks at the start to fight for it and will give it my all. Let’s see what we can do.”
Q3 ‘not Ideal’ as Vettel Nets Fourth
Team-mate Vettel was able to get a second run, starting his lap in the dying seconds of the session, but because those ahead of him had back him up, his tyres were significantly below their optimum temperature for the start of the lap.
Vettel will be the highest placed driver on the grid to start on the soft Pirelli tyre, but despite this he is expecting a tough evening under the lights in Abu Dhabi, particularly in the final sector where Ferrari are losing so much time compared to their rivals.
“I will start from P4 tomorrow but today’s Q3 was not ideal,” said Vettel. “We are struggling a lot in the final sector where there are some corners in which we are simply not quick enough. It’s probably not the best track for us, but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.
“In the last part of the session it was a pity because everybody was so slow. As a result, my tyres were too cold when I started my lap and I lost the car immediately in the first corner. And Charles wasn’t even able to start his lap. The reason why we are slow in the last corner is maybe that we are sliding more than the others, because we are struggling to get the tyres working correctly.
“Tomorrow we will do our best, but it won’t be an easy race. But we are looking for opportunities. That’s why we have chosen a different tyre compound and will see if we are right to start on Softs.”
Binotto Disappointed with End of Session Traffic
Team Principal Mattia Binotto said it was important to ‘go for it’ at the end of the session in order to improve on their initial runs, but the traffic and timing issues for both drivers cost them the opportunity to better their grid positions.
Binotto feels the split strategy at the start will give the team opportunities to attack on Sunday, but the end of Q3 possibly denied the team at least a front row start.
“We went into qualifying today knowing that, all weekend we were not fast enough in the third sector, so we had to come up with something,” said Binotto. “In the first run in Q3 we were still a long way off pole so we decided to really go for it at the end, when the track was improving, by going out at the very last minute, aiming to have the track in the best conditions.
“We knew it would be tight and we were well aware of the risk we were taking, but we had to take it. Unfortunately, we encountered some traffic and that meant it didn’t work out for us.
“The call concerning which tyre to start the race on was very tight and here again we went for different strategies in order to make sure we’ll have the most opportunities tomorrow.”