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Leclerc admits P2 qualifying result is a 'big surprise' and says beating Mercedes is 'all that matters' in Abu Dhabi

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Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc greets the fans after finishing with the second best

Charles Leclerc admitted his surprise at qualifying on the front row for Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – although there was plenty of frustration for Carlos Sainz after he was knocked out in Q1.

Leclerc’s first lap in the pole-position shootout saw him place just ninth, but on his final attempt, on a brand-new set of soft tyres, he wound up in second, 0.139s off pole-sitter Max Verstappen.

READ MORE: Verstappen beats Leclerc to Abu Dhabi GP pole as Hamilton and Sainz endure early exits

Leclerc sat out FP1 but returned in the second practice hour to go fastest before finishing fifth in FP3. He also left it late to make it out of both Q1 and Q2, which led to his surprise at the result.

“Honestly considering the weekend we’ve had until now I did not expect at all,” said Leclerc. “The last lap I knew I had to put everything together, and I did the last corner, [there] was a bit too much sliding, but I think everybody had that.

“So, really really happy with the second place. In Q1 and Q2 I was worried about going through and at the end a front row, so it’s amazing.”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 24: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari

Leclerc admitted his surprise after qualifying second in Abu Dhabi

Asked where his final lap came from after his struggles, Leclerc replied: “For some reason our car is very peaky, so whenever we are on scrubbed tyres like the first run in Q3 was a very good lap, but we were last.

“So, I was like okay I don’t have much hope. But then when we put the new tyres on everything comes alive, it felt great and again I did a great lap. So, really happy to be on the front row but it’s a big surprise.”

HIGHLIGHTS: Enjoy the best action from qualifying in Abu Dhabi as Verstappen clinches pole

Leclerc lines up next to Verstappen on the front row for the third race in a row and while victory is within his sights, his attentions will also be placed on Mercedes. Ferrari are four points off their rivals for second place in the constructors’ championship and the Monegasque says beating them is the target.

“I hope it’s going to go well,” said Leclerc. “That’s the target is to beat them in the constructors’ championship. So, I really hope Carlos can have a great start and then join me in the fight.

2023 Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying: Sainz knocked out in Q1

“Let’s try and put both of our cars in front of both Mercedes and come back home with second place in the constructors which is all that matters to me this weekend.”

Hampering Ferrari’s hopes of beating Mercedes is the fact that Sainz is set to start the race from 16th. The Spaniard later explained that a front wing issue played a role in his early exit in qualifying.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

“It’s been a very tough weekend for us,” said Sainz. “Not only because of the crash but also overall pace hasn’t been great. Struggling, the car doesn’t feel bad, it’s just the stopwatch is not looking very good.

“We just simply went out too late, the last run we found ourselves in the middle of the mess, with the traffic and everything. We had a problem at the front wing and for some reason we went out the last ones when we were clearly under pressure.

“And then we found a lot of traffic in sector 1 and 2. So, we needed a clean lap, we needed a clean Q1, and we didn’t get it. So, we are out.”

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