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Leclerc hails best Friday of the season for Ferrari at Albert Park as Sainz hopes to ‘play’ with Red Bull in qualifying

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Charles Leclerc hailed Ferrari’s “most positive” FP2 session of the 2023 season so far after an encouraging first day of practice for the Scuderia at the Australian Grand Prix in a mixture of weather conditions.

Leclerc placed fifth on the timesheets in Friday’s opening session at the Albert Park Circuit and posted the second-quickest time in second practice before rain hit, pointing to Ferrari making some positive steps in terms of the SF-23’s set-up direction.

FP2: Alonso fastest for Aston Martin before rain falls on Albert Park

Speaking after Friday’s two sessions, Leclerc commented: “I feel like the feeling is a bit better than the other races, so that is positive. It is probably our most positive FP2 of the season, which doesn’t mean much, but at least it is a Friday that finishes on a positive note.

“Now we need to work, do another step in the right direction tomorrow and hopefully we will be a bit closer to the Red Bulls tomorrow [in qualifying], and especially [during the race].

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 31: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-23 on track

Leclerc rose to P2 on the timesheets before the rain arrived in second practice

“In quali I think it will be close once again. In the race, unfortunately with the rain [in FP2], nobody did the high fuel runs, so on that we are going a little bit blind into the race. Maybe in FP3 we’ll see a bit more long runs and hopefully we’ll manage to learn a bit more there.”

While Leclerc challenged Red Bull in qualifying-trim in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Ferrari have struggled with their race pace until now – something the Monegasque is also cautiously optimistic about improving this weekend.

READ MORE: Verstappen says he has ‘studying to do’ despite leading FP1 as Perez describes ‘messy’ afternoon in Australia

“I think that with the different changes we’ve done today, maybe we [will] find a little bit of performance. We must not forget that last race, we were really, really struggling in the race and we won’t be finding this kind of lap time in the race, but this should be a step in the right direction,” he said.

On the other side of the Ferrari garage, Carlos Sainz finished sixth in FP1 before going one better in FP2 to round out the top five positions, as he echoed Leclerc’s sentiments.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 31: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-23 on track

Sainz hopes Ferrari can give Red Bull a run for their money during qualifying in Melbourne

“Obviously practice is practice, but we did use that FP1 to try some very different things on the car to see if we can find a bit of performance for the package that we have now,” Sainz began.

“We did seem to understand a bit better and find a couple of things that could help us in the future, but until we don’t put it into practice in a proper quali lap, we will not know.”

READ MORE: Hamilton and Russell give verdict on where Mercedes can qualify after disrupted opening day in Melbourne

As for Ferrari’s chances of challenging Red Bull across the weekend, he added: “I think it’s fair to assume that in quali we will play with them, but then in the race we should assume also that we should be one step behind like we were in Jeddah, no?

“But with the steps that we are planning to do, and that we want to do from the things that we’ve tried to discover this weekend, hopefully that becomes a better situation.”

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