It looked like Charles Leclerc was set to take an early bath in qualifying when the rain came at Interlagos. But the Sauber driver refused to let a few drops deter him from having one more shot at progressing into Q3. And that show of defiance paid off as he qualified a superb eighth for Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix…
Leclerc had showed top 10 potential all weekend in the Sauber and comfortably got through Q1. But when he reported that it was 'raining too much' on team radio in Q2, the chances of repeating that pace when it mattered looked bleak.
His Sauber team told him to box, given his appraisal of the conditions, but Leclerc replied: “No, no, no, no. I want to stay out. We go for one more, and I try.” And try he did. While others struggled in the conditions, Leclerc delivered a stunning lap to make Q3. “Wow, what a lap,” he said when he saw his time on the dashboard. “I’m happy this time.”
The feat was made even more impressive when Leclerc admitted he completed it with flat-spotted tyres.
“To be honest, I half believed in the fact that we couldn’t improve with this weather and obviously with flat-spotted tyres, because we stayed on the same tyres that we were on just before,” he said.
“Nobody really believed that we could improve, but I really wanted to go for it, I never really give up, so I just wanted to try. I saw that there was enough time to go out again and I just went for it.
“It was an extremely good lap. I was extremely happy, especially as it was quite a bit raining, with used tyres also so I never thought I would have improved. In the end it went a lot better than we thought.”
Leclerc will ultimately start Sunday’s race seventh, courtesy of a five-place grid penalty for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with his Sauber team mate Marcus Ericsson one place ahead in sixth, with Leclerc praising the Swede’s ‘incredible job’ in qualifying to net the best starting position of his career to date.
Sauber have two cars in the top 10 in Brazil for the first time since 2004, when Felipe Massa qualified fourth and led the race at one stage before ultimately finishing eighth.
A strong points haul will help the Swiss team close the gap to Force India in the fight for seventh in the constructors’ championship. The gap is currently 11 points with two races to go.