Leclerc relieved to take pole on Albert Park track where 'I’ve always struggled'
Charles Leclerc admitted that Albert Park wasn’t his happiest of hunting grounds before he took the 11th pole position of his career here in Australia, the Ferrari driver having struggled with the “tricky” layout and the low-hanging sun on his way to P1 on Saturday.
Leclerc finished second to Lando Norris in FP3 on Saturday and was behind the Red Bulls in the opening two qualifying segments, before hitting back to finish nearly three-tenths ahead of Verstappen in the top 10 shootout. There was a palpable sense of relief from the Ferrari driver given his late improvement for pole position.
“Yes, it was a good lap. This time I took quite a bit of risk, especially in Turn 6 which was tricky. I wasn’t really on it during qualifying in this corner [Turn 6], just doing some mistakes and then in the last Q3 lap I managed to make it right and I think I gained quite a bit on myself compared to the other laps.
“I’m very happy with the lap, and, especially on a track like this where I’ve always struggled in the past and also [in free practice], even though we were competitive, it was very difficult to put a lap together.
“I was just [making] quite a bit of mistakes so I was working on consistency and managed to put that lap together in Q3. So, very, very happy, and it’s good to be starting on pole tomorrow.”
Leclerc, who leads the championship going into the third round of the season and the first Australian Grand Prix in three years, explained exactly why he found qualifying such a challenge.
“I’ve always struggled, even on the previous layout. I’ve always struggled with these types of corners that are not really 90 degrees, but it’s just strange. And yes, always struggled with my driving style here, but I think it’s also an overall thing for all the drivers; it’s a very tricky track, very challenging track for us drivers, and it was even trickier with the sun.
“The sun in Q2, we just couldn’t see anything; in Q3 it was a little bit better on the first run… the second run it wasn’t. It was a very tricky session.”
“Yes, the car is nice to drive, but the Red Bulls were very quick in FP2 during the long fuel runs,” said Leclerc. “But, to be honest, we were again quite surprised by our pace in qualifying – so everything is possible tomorrow. We just need a good start and hopefully we can keep that first position.”
Team mate Carlos Sainz will however have to fight back from a provisional P9 on the grid after a tough Q3 as the Scuderia aim to consolidate their lead in both championships.