Leclerc hails positive start after setting early pace in Abu Dhabi but warns of ‘work to do’
Charles Leclerc is hopeful of having a “great weekend” at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after topping the timesheets on the opening day of practice, though has warned that Ferrari could still have a fight on their hands in the battle for second in the constructors’ championship.
While Leclerc was amongst the drivers to sit out Free Practice 1 – with many teams taking their final opportunity of the season to run a rookie in the car – the Monegasque set the pace in the second practice session, coming out on top despite two red flags disrupting the action.
When asked if the result felt like a positive end to Friday despite the lack of running, Leclerc explained: “Yeah, because I only did one lap on the medium [tyre] then straightaway a lap on the soft and it was feeling pretty good. It’s a good sign when it starts like this, so [I] hope we can have a great weekend from now on.”
However, Leclerc remains wary of the challenge posed by Mercedes, with George Russell having led the way in the day’s first practice hour.
“It’s true that also Mercedes looked very strong,” the Scuderia driver added. “I don’t know what happened exactly in FP2 – they looked a little bit less strong compared to FP1, so we’ve still got a lot of work to do because we will be fighting with them this weekend.”
While the Yas Marina Circuit has not always traditionally favoured Ferrari, Leclerc is hesitant to suggest that this may have changed this year.
“I will wait before saying that it’s a strong circuit for us!” he said. “We still have to prove it tomorrow in qualifying, and then tyre management will be the biggest thing this weekend. We know that we have to be prepared for that on Sunday, so we’ll do our best.”
There is still plenty to play for in Abu Dhabi; Ferrari are just four points away from Mercedes in the fight for P2 in the constructors’, while Leclerc is potentially in the scrap for fourth place of the drivers’ standings, though sits 12 points away from current P4 man Carlos Sainz.
On what those two battles mean to him going into the weekend, Leclerc reflected: “The fourth place in the drivers’ [means] absolutely nothing, the second place in the constructors’ though is nice. Honestly I would really like the team to be second at the end of this weekend. We’ve had a tough season and everybody deserves it.
“They’ve worked like crazy in order to bring the upgrades earlier, and it would be deserved to be in second at the end of the year, so we’ll do absolutely everything for that. And then in the drivers’, honestly I don’t have too much hope of finishing fourth. If this happens then good, if not I don’t really mind. I just want to win that championship as soon as possible.”
One practice session remains on Saturday, which will not take place in the dusk conditions representative of qualifying and the race. Having had limited running in FP2 therefore means that Leclerc is expecting some challenges during the rest of the weekend.
“It’s going to be a tricky weekend,” he conceded. “I think we are going to go into the race with as much information as we do on a Sprint weekend maybe, where we have very little info, so it’s going to be very interesting and we’ll try to maximise the little information we have, and normally it’s one of our strong points, so I hope we can take advantage of that and beat Mercedes.”
Sainz, meanwhile, had a difficult first day in Abu Dhabi. While the Spaniard was in action in FP1, his time on the track in second practice was cut short following a heavy crash 10 minutes into the session, having spun twice before hitting the barriers.
Fortunately the Spaniard reported that he was feeling fine afterwards, explaining to the media: “I’m feeling good thanks, it was a pretty big crash but in the end, again with these safe cars you can get away with these pretty big hits pretty untouched and that’s the case. A little bit sore but nothing to worry about.”
After several drivers were seen appearing to experience a snap through the corner in the day’s first practice session, Sainz was quizzed on whether a bump may have risen in the track.
“Yeah, for some reason there’s been a change in the track compared to other years. There’s two bumps, one in the exit of Turn 2 and one in the entry of Turn 3 that, with these new generation of cars, is upsetting the car a lot,” he responded. “It nearly caught me out in FP1, I changed a few things in the set-up and in the line trying to get rid of it and then again in that lap, it surprised me.
“It must have been an angle or an exact way I took the bump and it made me just be a passenger from there on. We’ve seen before with this generation of cars, any small bumps can really make you spin, make you have a pretty heavy crash. It is what it is, it is not ideal but we’ll try and make it better tomorrow.
"We were definitely changing things from FP1 to FP2 which might have had an effect, but obviously I’m not going to go into details of that. But unfortunately, I just couldn’t control the car. It snapped on me and it’s those moments you feel as if you are a complete passenger and you wish maybe you would have done something different."