RACE DEBRIEF

    While Charles Leclerc was happy with his and Ferrari’s “clean” first day of running in Abu Dhabi, the Monegasque believes the team will need to make steps overnight if they are to be in contention for victory this weekend.

    Leclerc wound up third on Friday’s timesheets, a tenth away from George Russell’s Mercedes and another three-tenths adrift of pace-setting Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, with team mate Carlos Sainz back in sixth.

    Describing his long-run pace as “okay”, Leclerc urged Ferrari to get a handle on their long-run performance around the Yas Marina Circuit, with the Italian team looking to fend off Mercedes in the race for P2 in the constructors’ standings.

    READ MORE: Verstappen leads Russell and Leclerc during twilight second practice in Abu Dhabi

    “It was a clean Friday, at least, which [for] a long time we didn’t have – this is good. On the other hand, we seemed to lack a little bit of pace, especially on the race runs,” Leclerc reflected.

    “[Our] quali runs seem to be okay, but this is no surprise, as it’s been the case for the last few races. We just need to try and find a little bit of performance for the race. That’s definitely where our focus will be. Whether it will be the case or not, I don’t know yet.”

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    Leclerc put his Ferrari third in FP2, behind the Mercedes of Russell and Red Bull of Verstappen

    Pushed if he was confident about being in the fight for pole position, Leclerc added: “The last lap of Max was really quick, but he put one more [soft] tyre set [on], so it’s difficult to compare.

    “The track is improving a lot in those conditions, especially when the night starts to come. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see, but I believe it will be closer in the quali than the race.”

    READ MORE: Verstappen says RB18 ‘in a good window’ on Friday in Abu Dhabi as he goes in search of 15th win in 2022

    Sainz, meanwhile, admitted to feeling on the back foot after stepping aside for 2021 F2 runner-up Robert Shwartzman in FP1, meaning he had to cram his Friday programme into the second practice hour – albeit that the session is more representative of qualifying and race conditions.

    “It was a busy one – especially FP2, obviously. FP1 was not very busy, I was just chilling in the garage. But [there was] a lot of work to do to catch up in FP2 to get the car back into the sweet spot and myself [to] also [get] used to the track and the grip that there is out there,” he commented.

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    Sainz was back in action for FP2 after Ferrari gave junior driver Robert Shwartzman some extra F1 running

    “Overall, we managed to recover some good time, but there’s still a lot to catch up on in FP3 and quali. At this stage of the weekend, I’m still a bit behind, but going into quali [it] should be okay.”

    As for where he and Ferrari expect to find themselves during the crunch sessions, Sainz added: “We should be in the mix, although Red Bull look like they are back on form and they should be the car to beat.

    READ MORE: Russell thinks Red Bull ‘have the legs’ on Mercedes at Yas Marina as Hamilton plots overnight changes to recover FP1 form

    “Especially Max was super quick in the short run and in the long run – in every condition really – and I think they are going to be tough to beat, but I think we’re going to be there in the fight with the Mercs and we should be okay.”

    Leclerc heads into the weekend level on 290 points with Sergio Perez in the drivers’ standings, as the pair fight it out to see who will claim P2 behind Verstappen for the season.