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Leclerc feels rivals ‘hid their game’ as Ferrari slip back in Imola qualifying but insists ‘target remains to win’

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IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari  walks in the Paddock prior to final

Charles Leclerc commented that McLaren and Red Bull “hid their game a bit more than we thought” after Ferrari slipped from the top of the practice timesheets to a low-key fourth and fifth during qualifying in Imola.

Leclerc was fastest in both FP1 and FP2 on Friday as Ferrari made a strong early impression at their first home race of the season, where the SF-24s of the Monegasque and team mate Carlos Sainz took on a host of upgrades.

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However, as Saturday unfolded, and the crunch qualifying session took place, Leclerc and Sainz could not keep up with the pace of recovering Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and McLaren pair Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.

Asked if it was a surprise to place behind the McLarens at the end of qualifying, Leclerc said: “I’m a bit disappointed. Just today there wasn’t much more in the car.

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“FP1 and FP2 went really well, however we never know what are the fuel levels of the others and I think they hid their game a bit more than what we thought. That ended up by just having not enough performance in the car to do better today.

“It’s a shame, because when you have upgrades on the car, when you are at [Ferrari’s] home, you obviously want to do really well, but today was the best we could do. Tomorrow we will focus on maxmising the result, but the target remains the win, for sure.”

READ MORE: Alonso braced for ‘extremely tough’ race in Imola on weekend where ‘everything has gone wrong’

As for what’s possible on race day, he continued: “The car is definitely good in terms of race pace, however it’s one of the most difficult tracks to overtake on. Also I don’t quite understand why the DRS [zone] is shorter this year, which is going to make overtakes a bit more difficult.

“But strategy is still there, the pace is there, so my target is still the win, and if we come short of this, it’s life, we will have tried at least.”

Sainz added that he was not surprised by McLaren’s pace while also explaining a deficit of almost three-tenths of a second to team mate Leclerc in the decisive Q3 phase.

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 on track during

Leclerc topped FP1 and FP2 at Imola but had to settle for the fourth-fastest time in qualifying

“I think looking in detail, the whole weekend McLaren have looked a bit stronger than us in single-lap pace on the soft [tyres],” he said. “They just were not putting a lap together [in practice] but we knew coming to quali they were going to be difficult to beat.

“Then we had Max who obviously always gets there… Even if they [Red Bull] run the engine turned down always in practice, and they look like they are struggling, we know they have a lot to come, come qualifying.

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“From our side, nothing… I struggled with the soft tyre… I’m a lot quicker with the medium and with the hard tyres than what I am with softs, which is something I need to personally look into. Apart from that, all good, it’s more or less where we expected to be.”

Pushed on whether he can challenge for a top-three finish in the race, he signed off: “I think the target needs to be the podium tomorrow, and if something happens in front, get that win.”

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