After taking pole position in the previous two events in Monaco and Azerbaijan, Scuderia Ferrari go into the French Grand Prix weekend cautious about their chances of a three-peat, but Charles Leclerc enjoyed a positive afternoon at the Circuit Paul Ricard to place inside the top five.
The morning session in France seemed to suggest that Ferrari would not be a contender at the front compared to the last couple of rounds, but once they got on track in the afternoon, the pace reappeared and Leclerc was able to end fifth fastest, just behind Alpine F1 Team’s Fernando Alonso.
Leclerc admitted that with the strong winds and high temperatures, it was important to find a good car balance, but once they found a set-up that worked, he was able to extract the kind of pace that could see him become a threat at the front, at least on Saturday.
“The main focus today was on car balance,” said Leclerc. “The wind was very strong, which made it tricky to drive, but that was the same for everyone so we just had to try and find a good way to manage in these conditions.
“In general, here things are looking more in line with what we expected compared to the last two race weekends, where we had pleasant surprises.
“Our performance today was not bad and although we still have quite a bit of work to do, we made a nice recovery from FP1 and the car felt better this afternoon.
“It will be important to understand how to get the tyres in the right operating window tomorrow. With the wind, we also have to find the right set-up to make sure that the car is easy to drive in qualifying.
“If we manage to put these two things together, I’m pretty sure we can have a decent weekend.”
“We knew that this layout would be challenging for us” – Carlos Sainz Jr.
Team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. had a tricky morning in France, with the Spaniard ruining a set of the soft Pirelli tyres after he lost control of his car exiting turn two. He spun into the run-off and caused major flat-spots to his tyres.
Sainz, who was a podium finisher in the Monaco Grand Prix last month, admitted the winds were causing problems for everyone, but the gusts played a part in his spin that left him unable to set a time on the soft tyre, with his hard tyre run only good enough for sixteenth fastest.
He was able to improve significantly in the afternoon, with Sainz ending eighth fastest, but he knows there is more to come from the car, something he hopes to unlock on Saturday.
“Today was quite tricky,” said Sainz. “We knew that this layout would be challenging for us compared to some of the previous races, so today went more or less as expected. However, we are not that far away and we are reasonably pleased with the car balance.
“The trickiest thing was the strong wind, which was blowing in the worst possible directions, with a head wind on the straights and a tail wind in the corners. It made the circuit challenging and slower.
“The Soft and Hard tyres seem to work well, so we’ll keep working tonight to try and extract the maximum from the car tomorrow.”