RACE DEBRIEF

    Charles Leclerc was feeling cautiously optimistic at the dawn of the 2020 Formula 1 season, telling reporters in Australia that he believed he had the speed to take the fight to Lewis Hamilton and his rivals this season, and claim the ultimate prize.

    Asked on Thursday at Melbourne’s Albert Park if he felt a title tilt was a realistic prospect from him in his third season in the sport, Leclerc replied: “It’s always difficult. I think Lewis is very, very strong at the moment, and I’ve still got a lot of things to learn.

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    “But I think the speed is there, and I’ve shown it on my good weekends,” he added. “Now it’s all about consistency and I’m trying to do the best job I can to work on that and to be better at that. And then yes, I think we’ve got chances.”

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    Leclerc appeared quietly confident ahead of the start of the year

    Leclerc finished fourth in the drivers’ standings in 2019, one place and 24 points up on team mate Sebastian Vettel. But with a year at Ferrari now under his belt, the Monegasque said he was feeling more comfortable and confident within the team – especially after a strong winter’s preparation, during which he signed an extension on his Ferrari contact to keep him at the Scuderia until at least 2024.

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    “Coming to here, it’s obviously a bit different for me [compared to 12 months ago],” said Leclerc. “I know everyone in the team, I know how the team is working and I feel also a lot more ready. I’ve prepared myself more than ever during the winter season. I knew what to expect, so I know what to prepare for, and I think this has made quite a big difference. So I definitely feel more ready in general, and I can’t wait to be back in the car.”

    Charles Leclerc: 'I definitely feel ready'

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    As to how that car – the 2020-spec SF1000 – will perform over the weekend in Australia, Leclerc said the team had achieved their goal of adding more downforce compared to last year’s SF90, heralding the machine as “quite quick around the corners” (a view borne out by our data) – albeit not as fast in a straight line.

    “As I said in Barcelona, we added downforce on the car and as a result we lost speed on the straight,” said Leclerc. “But that’s what we expected. Now, time will tell if we did it too much or not. But for sure, we are going quite quick around the corners…”

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