Charles Leclerc felt qualifying fourth on the grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix was a ‘pleasant surprise’, but it was satisfying to know Scuderia Ferrari have made gains in 2021 compared to last year.
Ferrari often struggled for performance and were often struggling just to make it into Q2 on Saturdays, but Leclerc finished second to team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. in Q2 to get into the top ten shootout, and then maximised his one and only lap in Q3 to take fourth on the grid.
“We know now where we are in terms of qualy pace and it’s a pleasant surprise, as we didn’t expect to be here, but today we need to keep our feet on the ground,” said Leclerc. “It’s only the first qualy of the year and it’s run in very strange conditions.
“I think we should be satisfied as a team with the step we made since last year, so to be so far forward on the grid feels great. I have been struggling in FP2 and FP3 as I could not find the feeling with the car but I worked quite a lot on the driving and in qualy I was actually quite confident I would be able to do the lap I wanted.”
The main downside for Leclerc is the fact Ferrari will be starting the race on the medium compound tyre, while the majority of those around him, including polesitter Max Verstappen, both Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers and Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda’s Pierre Gasly will all be starting on the medium compound.
“I feel confident for tomorrow but it’s going to be difficult as other cars around us seem to be very strong in terms of race pace and are starting on Mediums, so it’s going to be tricky to keep them behind,” said the Monegasque racer.
“Also, it’s not going to be easy because of the wind, but that’s the same for everyone.”
“I think we can be happy with where we are” – Carlos Sainz Jr.
Team-mate Sainz enjoyed his first Qualifying session as a Ferrari driver, having joined the team during the off-season after two years with the McLaren F1 Team.
The Spaniard was lucky after stopping on track with a technical issue at the end of Q1, but he was able to restart the car and bring it back to the pits. The problem didn’t reappear, and he was able to top Q2 before taking eighth on the grid.
“A very positive day for the team,” said Sainz. “I think we can be happy with where we are. We had that very big shock in Q1, with the car turning off, but thankfully I could start it again and made it to the pits.
“It’s not always easy to recover from that, but we managed to have a very strong Q2. I’m obviously not happy with my last attempt in Q3. I went for it, but I’m probably lacking a bit more knowledge on the car, and I couldn’t put together a clean lap. It is what it is.
“In general, though, I’m happy. I’ve been improving throughout the sessions, with good pace and very few mistakes so I want to keep gaining experience with the car and building confidence on a one-timed lap.”
Sainz says he will be doing everything he can to move forward in Sunday’s race, his first with the Scuderia, from the fourth row of the grid, with big points the Spaniard’s aim.
“There will be time to analyse Qualifying in depth next week, but now I want to switch my full focus to tomorrow’s race,” said Sainz. “I’m looking forward to my first ever race with the team and we’ll give our best to gain positions and finish as high as possible.”