Leclerc says patience the key as Ferrari race pace progress helps him to P4 in Portugal
Two weeks ago, Charles Leclerc fell from P4 on the grid at the Nurburgring to a distant P7 in the Eifel Grand Prix as he struggled for race pace in his Ferrari SF1000. But following another round of updates from the team, Leclerc was able to convert the same grid slot into a P4 finish in the Portuguese Grand Prix, with the Monegasque revelling in the improved race pace of his car.
Leclerc had done a fine job in qualifying to take fourth on the grid, while he’d also had enough pace in hand to go through Q2 on the medium tyre, meaning he would start on the harder compound.
That contributed to a difficult opening to the race, with Leclerc briefly falling to seventh on Lap 1, before steadily working his way back to what in the end would be a comfortable fourth place at the chequered flag – the Monegasque the last driver to avoid being lapped by winner Lewis Hamilton.
“I’m extremely happy,” said Leclerc, “not because we didn’t get lapped but mostly because our race pace in general has been very positive today. We’ve been struggling quite a lot at the start, which cost us quite a lot of overall time for the race, but in the end, we caught back quite a lot and so overall I’m quite happy with our performance today.”
Leclerc’s improved race performance appeared to derive from Ferrari’s latest updates to the SF1000, which focused on increasing the car’s downforce via tweaks to its diffuser – something that also allowed Sebastian Vettel to climb from his disappointing P15 in qualifying to P10 at the flag.
But despite the improved performance of the car, Leclerc admitted he’d had a few hairy moments en route to his fourth place, not helped by starting on the harder-to-warm-up medium compound.
“It was a very difficult one, because the first half of the race, I had to be very, very patient,” said Leclerc. “I was getting overtaken a bit everywhere, and then lap after lap I could feel it was coming and then it paid off at the end. But I felt quite good in the car. It was tricky, I had a lot of moments where I thought I would crash, but in the end I kept it on track, and fourth place is a great place to [be].”
Ferrari’s first double points score since Mugello allowed them to move 16 points clear of seventh-placed AlphaTauri in the constructors’ fight – with Ferrari now hoping that, with Leclerc having comfortably outperformed rivals from Renault, Racing Point and McLaren on race day in Portimao, there may still be enough time for them to get involved in those teams’ fight for P3 in the standings, with Ferrari 33 points adrift of the current holders of that position, Racing Point, after Portugal.