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Ferrari ‘closer to Red Bull than I anticipated’ says Sainz after Friday running in Japan

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 04: Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari looks on in the Paddock during previews

Winner last time out in Australia, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was pleased with the start to his weekend in Suzuka, feeling that his team were closer to Red Bull than they’d anticipated.

Sainz recorded the third triumph of his Formula 1 career at the Australian Grand Prix after an early retirement for Max Verstappen.

READ MORE: Verstappen expects ‘closer’ challenge from rivals despite 'good start' for Red Bull at Suzuka

But having expected Ferrari to struggle at the Suzuka circuit that hosts the Japanese Grand Prix, Sainz was delighted to find himself P3 after Free Practice 1, just 0.213s off Max Verstappen’s time for Red Bull – with FP2 then disrupted by bad weather.

“Honestly a bit closer to the Red Bulls than I anticipated or expected,” said Sainz when asked for his verdict on the day, “so positive signs in terms of progress made from five months ago [when Formula 1 last raced in Suzuka] to now.

Sainz: Ferrari ‘closer to the Red Bull’s than I expected’

“Still obviously FP1, you don’t know what fuel loads and engine modes are running, but it feels like we – obviously last year, we were eight-tenths off in quali, and here to be two-tenths off in FP1 was a good feeling, or a good starting base. But [Red Bull] are going to be difficult to beat this weekend.

“I think it looks again tight with the McLarens, the Mercs [Mercedes]. Red Bull are a step ahead but a smaller step ahead than maybe I thought, so it should be an interesting fight out there.”

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix

Asked about the confidence that he was exhibiting currently, having bounced back from being struck down with appendicitis in Saudi Arabia to then win in Melbourne, Sainz replied: “I was confident in Bahrain, confident in Jeddah, confident in Australia, hit the ground running here this morning.

“Just when you do a good winter test, we understood the car well, we found a set-up that more or less seems to work everywhere, and also you know, the car is just better this year, which helps!”

FP2 Highlights: 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

On the other side of the garage, Charles Leclerc – wearing a tribute helmet to the late Jules Bianchi, Leclerc’s godfather who suffered a fatal incident at this track 10 years ago – felt that the disrupted FP2 meant that Ferrari had “a lot of questions to answer” heading into Saturday.

“There's still plenty to learn and we've still got quite a lot of things to try,” Leclerc said, “but we've got FP3 hopefully tomorrow, if there's no rain, and there we'll be able to test the things that are still on hold, because one [free practice session] is quite little.

“Especially because you do only the first run and then the track is very green, it's very slippery, so you cannot really learn anything on that first run, and then you go on the soft, but we only had one or two laps. So very little running and still a lot of questions to answer and things to fix before qualifying.”

GALLERY: Leclerc reveals tribute helmet for Jules Bianchi ahead of Japanese Grand Prix

Asked, meanwhile, if he could use his rivals’ lack of knowledge about the track to pull off a surprise in qualifying tomorrow, Leclerc replied: “I'll do my best. This is the target for sure. But in order to do so, we need to make sure that we are prepared in the best possible way for tomorrow, and at the moment, I still feel like we're lacking a little bit of pace to go and challenge for pole position, because Red Bull seem strong and especially Max up until now.

“So still quite a bit of work to do – but if there's a special lap to be done, I hope I'll be the one to do it.”

With Ferrari having scored maximum points in Australia after profiting from Verstappen’s retirement, the Scuderia sit just four points away from Red Bull in the constructors’ standings ahead of Sunday’s Suzuka showdown.

‘Jules needs to be remembered’ – Leclerc on his Bianchi tribute helmet design

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