‘If we can fix it, we can fight for the win’ – Leclerc reveals key struggle after losing Imola Sprint to Verstappen
For 19 of the 21 laps of the Emilia Romagna F1 Sprint, Charles Leclerc led the way, only to lose out in the final moments to rival Max Verstappen. And Leclerc revealed that getting on top of graining – which caused his pace to drop off at the Sprint end – would be key to fighting for victory in front of the tifosi in Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
A sensational launch from Leclerc from P2 on the grid saw him jump P1-starting Verstappen to lead comfortably into the first corner on Lap 1, with Leclerc then able to stretch his gap over the Dutchman as the laps unfolded.
But graining late on in the Sprint allowed Verstappen to close back up within DRS range, the Red Bull man then launching a pass around the outside of Tamburello on Lap 20 of 21, to claim a lead he would never lose, as Leclerc finished P2.
“I had a very good start,” said Leclerc. “We weren't side by side for Turn 1 and I could focus on my own race from that moment onwards. I tried to push at the beginning to get a bit of a gap and for Max to not be in the DRS zone because I knew that I would have been vulnerable if it was the case.
“But I paid the price a little bit later on in the race and had some graining and really struggled in the last two or three laps. So it's like this – but it's only the Sprint race and we'll learn from this to do better tomorrow.”
With seven points in his pocket to Verstappen’s eight after the Sprint, Leclerc was asked to analyse the difference in pace between the Ferrari and Red Bull at Imola this weekend, saying: “I think the pace is quite similar; what made the difference in the end is the graining phase I went through at the end of the race.
“If we manage to cure that for tomorrow, I'm pretty sure we're in the fight for the win. If not, it's going to be a bit more difficult. But anything’s possible for tomorrow, I think.”
Leclerc’s team mate Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, had a strong day following his Q2 crash yesterday. From P10 on the grid, the Spaniard made up six places – the most of any driver in the Sprint – to finish fourth, a result Sainz said was “the maximum” he could have achieved.
“I think I just did the maximum that I could do today with the way that the race played out,” said Sainz. “I knew I had to get up to the top five, top four and today, I did P4 and I’m in the mix for tomorrow. So solid day, solid race and now ready to fight everyone tomorrow.”
Leclerc’s P2 on the grid for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, meanwhile, means a Ferrari starts on the front row at Imola for the first time since 2006.