Charles Leclerc admitted fourth place was the best he could have hoped for in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, despite the Monegasque racer starting the race from pole position.
The Scuderia Ferrari racer became the first driver not racing for either the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team or Red Bull Racing to lead a lap in 2021, but his place at the front did not last long Lewis Hamilton swept passed him on the start/finish straight at the start of lap three.
He then lost further positions on track to both Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez, while both Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly managed to get ahead of him during their pit stops. Verstappen’s retirement and Hamilton’s mistake promoted him back up to fourth, and despite a last lap battle with Gasly for the final spot on the podium, he was forced to settle for fourth at the chequered flag.
“Before arriving in Baku, P4 was more or less where we could expect to finish the race,” said Leclerc. “The first surprise of the weekend was our pole position. A second surprise was that some of our competitors in the midfield were extremely quick today.
“Despite starting at the front, we knew we could well be overtaken by the cars of the two front running teams, which is what happened. After the first stop, I tried to do the best job possible.
“I had a lockup after the restart following the first safety car. Continuing with two flat spots was the most difficult part of the race. I really thought I wouldn’t make it to the end. Then we had the red flag, and I thought about the podium. But unfortunately, we didn’t’ make it.
“Seb did an incredible job – congratulations to him. The same goes for Pierre, it was a hard fight with him at the end! We will keep working and pushing in the right direction.”
“I didn’t have the same feeling with the car that I had had all weekend” – Carlos Sainz Jr.
Team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. also scored points with an eighth-place finish, but the Spaniard was disappointed with his race, which included a trip down an escape road early on that cost him a significant amount of time.
Sainz was able to recover some of the lost ground and positions thanks to the reset caused by the safety car and the late race red flag, but overall, he was expecting much more on a weekend that started so promisingly for Ferrari.
“Not the race I was hoping for today,” admitted Sainz. “I didn’t have the same feeling with the car that I had had all weekend. Every time I was on cold tyres – at both starts, at the restart and after the pit stop – I struggled a lot with front locking and with the brakes.
“That led to a costly mistake which compromised my whole race. In the end, I managed to get back in the points but I’m not happy with the result. We need to understand the reasons behind those issues and try to improve for the upcoming races.
“We’ve got some time now to go to Maranello and work on it, so I’m sure we’ll come back stronger in France.”