Leclerc wary of McLaren threat at Imola despite ‘great qualifying’ to earn second straight P4 grid slot
Charles Leclerc secured his second consecutive P4 in qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, to help continue his Ferrari team’s 2021 resurgence. But despite the strong qualifying performance, the Monegasque says he is expecting to struggle more for race pace in Sunday’s contest at Imola, and fears the threat from the two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.
Leclerc overcame smashing into the wall at Rivazza in Free Practice 2, using the team’s upgraded floor on the SF21 to make it through to Q3 (unlike team mate Carlos Sainz, who’ll start the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in P11) before taking fourth on the grid, 0.329s off Lewis Hamilton’s pole time for Mercedes.
“It’s been a great qualifying even though I feel like we struggled a bit more today compared to yesterday to do the lap times we wanted, so I struggled a little bit more in the car,” said Leclerc, speaking at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit named for his team’s founder and son.
“But in Q3, I managed to do the lap I wanted, apart from the chicane where I lost a little bit. But looking at the result, we couldn’t have reached that P3 position [taken by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was 0.087s off Hamilton] so I’m very happy with today.”
The positions from P4 to P7 on the grid at Imola were exactly the same as at the Bahrain Grand Prix three weeks ago, with Leclerc heading AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, and the two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. But with Norris having passed Leclerc at Bahrain to finish that race in P4, Leclerc was wary of a repeat performance from McLaren at Imola.
“I think it’s going to be a difficult race,” said Leclerc. “We are lacking a little bit of straight-line speed, especially compared to the McLaren. So we’ll have to wait and see and hopefully we’ll have a good enough pace to go away [from the McLarens]. If not, it’s going to be difficult to keep them behind.
“It’s an amazing track,” he added. “I love it because you cannot do any mistakes, like I showed in FP2 taking the wall! But these things can happen tomorrow because we’ll all be pushing a lot. There’s not much tyre management which is something that we like as drivers because we can push throughout the race, so it should be an exciting race tomorrow.”
Leclerc will at least be buoyed by his previous performance at Imola, with the Monegasque having finished P5 for Ferrari at last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.