Charles Leclerc took advantage of a clear track and being in front of Esteban Ocon when the Frenchman spun to take a surprise fifth place on the grid for Scuderia Ferrari’s one-thousandth Grand Prix at the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello on Saturday.
The Monegasque racer had failed to advance into Q3 in either the Belgian or Italian Grand Prix but got into the top ten for the first-ever Tuscan Grand Prix, and then pulled out a superb lap to get onto the third row of the grid.
“I’m happy to be back in the top ten as I’ve missed tackling Q3 in recent races,” admitted Leclerc. “The last two weekends have been extremely difficult for us so it’s nice to finally see the light.
“It’s still a bit of an unknown where our pace came from, and it is very important for us to find out, because that’s how we will consistently be at our best.
“The characteristics of this track suit our car better, that’s for sure. I think our medium-downforce package is better in terms of balance compared to our low-downforce one that we were running in Monza and Spa. I was struggling to drive the car there, and here I’m a bit more at ease with it, so I had more confidence and that also helped today.
“P5 is definitely the best we could have done. We are lacking performance compared to the guys in front but overall I’m very happy with the balance, which is positive.”
Leclerc feels the Mugello track suits Ferrari better than either Spa-Francorchamps or the Autodromo Nazionale Monza has in the past two weeks, but he has doubts they will be able to do as well in race conditions on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a difficult race because we have quite a lot of cars behind us that might turn out to be faster than us,” said Leclerc. “Hopefully we can give our Tifosi some entertainment and finish in this position or even better.”
“I’m not really getting the hang of the car” – Sebastian Vettel
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel found himself eliminated in Q2 and will start down in fourteenth after again struggling to match his less experienced team-mate in the SF1000.
He was lucky to make it into Q2 after a mistake in the first session left him floundering towards the back, but the German, who will move to Aston Martin Racing in 2021, admits he is still struggling to get used to the handling characteristics of the 2020 Ferrari.
“I made a mistake in Q1, although I was still able to go through to the next part, but from then on we weren’t able to make any progress,” said Vettel. “We need to have a look at the data, but so far, I’m not really getting the hang of the car.
“I am trying to, but it will be a difficult race tomorrow, especially given our start position, which means we won’t be able to show our true pace. I am not happy with this result, but I have struggled a little bit this weekend so far, so lets see what we can do tomorrow.
“As for overtaking, everybody is saying it is difficult here, but as we have never raced here before, let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
“At least ten cars will be fighting for places right behind the top three” – Laurent Mekies
Laurent Mekies, the Sporting Director at Ferrari, expects at least ten cars to be fighting for the positions behind the leading three drivers in the field, which he expects to be again Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen.
Mekies said it was pleasing to show a good turn of pace at Mugello after the horror weekends at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza that yielded no points and four Qualifying positions outside the top ten.
“After two very tough weekends in Spa and Monza, we wanted to turn things around and we seem to have managed it,” said Mekies. “Charles is fifth on the grid, so that today at least, he is ahead of the group of drivers that normally fight over a few tenths. It’s the best we can do right now.
“Sebastian’s result is not so good, but the gaps are very small: just five thousandths faster would have moved him up two places. We can expect a very tough race tomorrow on a beautiful and spectacular track that is also demanding for both the car and driver.
“At least ten cars will be fighting for places right behind the top three and we will have to do everything perfectly when it comes to strategy, reliability and the work in the pitlane. Our aim is the same as always, to bring home as many points as possible. We will have some extra motivation from the fact we want to do our best on what is the Scuderia’s one thousandth Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix.”