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Charles Leclerc

Leclerc accuses Ferrari rivals of 'hiding their game'

Ferrari hopes of landing pole at Imola were shattered as qualifying 'probably worse than expected' according to Charles Leclerc

Leclerc Imola
To news overview © XPBimages

Charles Leclerc feels Ferrari's F1 rivals 'sandbagged' in Friday practice after he and team-mate Carlos Sainz failed to land the pole position they had hoped for coming into the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend at Imola.

With the SF-24s sporting a plethora of upgrades, Leclerc raised expectations within the team and amongst the Tifosi by finishing quickest at the end of both sessions on home soil.

Although it is always unwise to read too much into Friday practice times, Ferrari certainly indicated it had the edge on rivals Red Bull and McLaren, and especially with three-time F1 champion Max Verstappen enduring "a bad day" and complaining fiercely about his RB20.

Leclerc even reached Q2 on a set of medium tyres compared to all of those around him on softs to further indicate this was going to be his day, only for Verstappen and Red Bull to shine again when it mattered most.

Rather than being on the front row, Leclerc and Sainz will start fourth and fifth, the former over two-tenths of a second adrift of Verstappen which, as he said, was not what was expected.

"We cannot be fully happy," said Leclerc, speaking to media, including RacingNews365, after qualifying.

"One good thing is that the upgrade is doing exactly what we expected, so that's always a good sign. However, on a track like this, maybe we haven't yet seen all the benefits of the upgrade, and so we came short of our target, which was to be on pole position.

"My lap was good. I don't think there was much more in it. I think in the race, we are quite strong. But track position is everything here, and especially with a reduced DRS it's going to be even more difficult to overtake tomorrow.

"So it's not going to be an easy race but we still should target the win and see where we end up from there."

Leclerc was left buoyant after what he felt was a "strong" Friday, although he conceded that there was "always a doubt about fuel levels", which manifested itself in qualifying.

"Obviously, there are no doubts about the fuel level in qualifying, and we are a bit further away than we thought," said Leclerc.

"I think they [the rivals] were running more fuel yesterday, or lower engine mode, or whatever they did. I think they were hiding their game a little bit more."

Whilst the upgrades worked to a certain extent, Leclerc feels time is required to understand and maximise the potential of the new parts after not being as close to Red Bull as anticipated.

"It's difficult," he said when asked to assess the new package. "We need to wait a few races before judging them because we might not be running in the optimal window for this new package and all of these [things], so I'm sure there's more potential to unlock.

"Was today worse than expected? Probably a little bit. We expected to be a bit closer.

"However, the season is still long, and we still have plenty of ideas on how to extract more from this package, and I'm sure that we will in the next few races, and that will be crucial for the rest of the season."

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