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Leclerc plans response after admitting team mate Sainz is ‘doing a better job’ so far this season

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Charles Leclerc has praised Ferrari team mate Carlos Sainz for driving at a “very high level” so far this season, conceding the Spaniard has simply “been stronger” and that it is now down to him to show improvements at the next few events.

Despite missing the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix due to appendicitis and subsequent surgery, Sainz sits just four points behind Leclerc in the drivers’ standings, having claimed two podium finishes and a victory from the three races he has contested.

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Sainz’s triumph in Australia was the result of a hard-fought comeback, only a fortnight on from that aforementioned operation, as he challenged Max Verstappen for pole position and then made the most of the Red Bull driver’s DNF to take the chequered flag.

Leclerc, meanwhile, claimed two podium finishes from the opening four races, with the Monegasque determined to come back fighting at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix as he looks for a first pole and victory to kickstart his campaign.

Asked about both Ferrari drivers performing well but Sainz holding the edge, and whether his team mate has adapted more easily to the SF-24, Leclerc replied: “No, I think it’s as simple as he’s doing a better job.

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Sainz beat Leclerc to victory in Australia after Verstappen’s early retirement

“In Bahrain it’s difficult to compare, because on my side I was facing issues and I think it was a very strong weekend apart from that on my side. However, in the last two races he’s just been stronger.

“It’s up to me now to work, especially in the qualifying pace, which is normally a strength. I’ve been struggling to put the lap together; it’s a very fine line to get it right or completely wrong on the out-lap and putting the tyres in the right window.

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“For now I have been struggling more than what Carlos has done. He’s driving at a very high level, which I think is great for the team, it’s great for me as well.

“I have been working a lot on that and normally when I work on points I’m quite confident [about] improving pretty quickly, so I’m not worried, but obviously now I need to show that on track, starting from tomorrow in qualifying.”

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As for what can be expected from Ferrari at the Shanghai International Circuit, which will host a Grand Prix for the first time in five years, along with the first Sprint of the campaign, Leclerc hopes the Scuderia will be closer to Red Bull than in Japan last time out.

“On paper I think it’s a track where we could be a bit stronger compared to Suzuka, but we will just approach it the same way,” he said. “I still think Red Bull will have the upper hand this weekend and we just have to focus on ourselves.

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“It can be very easy, as we’ve seen, especially in qualifying in Suzuka, I didn’t do a good job the Saturday and then you don’t go from fourth to fifth, but you go from fourth to eighth.

“It’s going to be very important, especially on a Sprint weekend – we’ve got two qualifyings this weekend – to extract the maximum out of the car in both qualifyings. In the race I think we are quite strong this year.”

He added: “Obviously it’s been a very long time since we drove here. We’ll have to see how our car behaves and what are the main limitations in the race, but on paper I think we should be closer to them [Red Bull].”

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