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Leclerc makes ‘similar planet’ to Verstappen claim ahead of Chinese GP

Charles Leclerc believes Ferrari are on a "similar planet" Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team in race trim, after a qualifying performance which put him behind the McLarens and Fernando Alonso - something he admitted was a "bad surprise."

Leclerc China quali
To news overview © XPBimages

Charles Leclerc feels that Ferrari are able to fight with Max Verstappen in race trim, saying the Red Bull driver is on a "similar planet" to the Italian team.

The Monegasque driver had hoped to fare better in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, but will line up for Sunday's race in sixth, with team-mate Carlos Sainz one position behind.

The 26-year-old explained his relative lack of pace was due to making changes between the sprint and qualifying that favoured performance in the race.

“On my side, specifically, I had the car that I think would be better for the race tomorrow, and I knew I will leave something on the table for qualifying," he told media including RacingNews365, but Leclerc did concede he had not anticipated falling that far back compared to the opposition, adding it was “more positions” than Ferrari would have “liked to compromise”.

"I don’t think we were expecting McLaren and Fernando [Alonso] to jump us as well, which has probably been overdone a little bit, but I think we are in a good place for tomorrow – tyre management will be a big thing tomorrow," he contended.

“We have good race pace, good tyre management, so I’m confident we can come back on the podium tomorrow, but obviously it was a bit of a bad surprise to be overtaken by the McLarens and Fernando.”

In spite of a disappointing qualifying, the five-time race winner does believe Ferrari are able to compete with Verstappen on race pace.

"Yes, once again," he agreed, when it was put to him the Dutchman was on another planet in qualifying, securing pole position with a time three-tenths faster than Sergio Perez in second.

"In the race, I think we are in a similar planet," he said, before mediating his statement: “I mean, he’s still very, very strong and I don’t know how much he was pushing this morning [in the sprint].

“But whenever they are struggling a bit more with the front axle, then we are here, not too far away. So, it all depends how quickly we get through [the McLarens and Fernando Alonso] tomorrow.

“Obviously, it going to be very difficult to walk through and take him, as he will have free air from the first lap.”

Leclerc has spoken extensively about his difficulties in qualifying this year, and feels there is still a way to go, having anticipated a better result in the session at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“Did I do a step forward [in qualifying form]? For sure, yes. Is it enough? For sure, not," the 23-time pole-sitter concluded.

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