RACE DEBRIEF

    Charles Leclerc will line up fourth for the Bahrain Grand Prix after an impressive lap in qualifying, but after the session the Ferrari driver said he expected his fight to be with Pierre Gasly behind him rather than the top three, when the race gets under way on Sunday.

    Ferrari came into this first race of 2021 looking for a marked improvement over last year when they suffered through their worst season for four decades. And Leclerc's showing in qualifying seemed to indicate they had made progress as he came within a tenth of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in Q3, while Gasly was another 0.130s behind Leclerc, in the AlphaTauri.

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    Asked whether he was confident about his chances in the race as Ferrari may also hold competitive long run pace, Leclerc replied: “Yes… but it’s going to be difficult. I think AlphaTauri is very strong in the race pace with what they’ve shown on Friday, and they are starting on the medium [tyres] too, so it’s going to be very difficult to keep them behind.

    “I don’t think the first three are reachable yet for us, but with a bit more work, hopefully soon we will be able to fight with them,” he added.

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    Pierre Gasly starts P5 and one place behind Leclerc, setting up a terrific midfield battle on Sunday

    Leclerc showed his Ferrari’s pace in Free Practice by finishing fifth quickest in FP3 – with our analysis putting the Scuderia fourth in the standings on long run pace. But he urged Ferrari not to get carried away by that and his fourth-place qualifying performance under the lights, with his new team mate Carlos Sainz in P8.

    “On the quali [pace], now we know, and it’s surprising us. We did not expect to be here. But I have to say, we need to keep our feet on the ground and it’s only the first quali of the year in very strange conditions, so I think we should be satisfied as a team of how much of a step we did compared to last year.

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    “If we looked last year we were fighting to go into Q2 and we didn’t make it, I think. So this year to be P4 on the grid feels great.”

    Compared to qualifying in 2020, Ferrari lost over half a second – 0.529s – this year after mandatory changes to the car regulations, but it remains to be seen how their race pace has been affected.