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Leclerc pulls out ‘best lap of the weekend’ in Q3 but admits Ferrari simply not quick enough at Suzuka

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Charles Leclerc said he “put everything together” to secure fourth on the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix, admitting that it was the maximum on offer for himself and Ferrari during qualifying.

Ferrari arrived at Suzuka fresh from two successive pole positions, a podium finish in Italy and a race win in Singapore – all courtesy of Leclerc’s team mate, Carlos Sainz – but could not fight with Red Bull and McLaren for the top spot this time out.

READ MORE: Verstappen and Red Bull return to form as they charge to pole ahead of the McLarens at Suzuka

As Q3 drew to a close, Leclerc was the fastest of the Ferrari drivers in fourth position, more than half a second behind pole-sitter Max Verstappen, with Sainz settling for sixth – a side note being that the SF-23s completed just one run apiece due to using up more soft tyres earlier on.

“It honestly felt quite good in the car but unfortunately this weekend we don’t really have the performance to do better,” Leclerc reflected. “I did honestly the best lap of the weekend in Q3, so I put everything together, but it wasn’t enough.”

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Qualifying Highlights: 2023 Japanese Grand Prix

Leclerc is one of three drivers, along with Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, under investigation post-session for allegedly failing to follow the Race Director’s instructions regarding maximum lap time.

Putting that aside for the time being and looking towards Sunday’s action, Leclerc said: “I think both Red Bulls are much quicker in the race… I mean quicker in high fuel. Max and Checo are much closer on the high fuel, so I expect Checo to come back.

READ MORE: Verstappen hails ‘fantastic’ run to pole at Suzuka as Red Bull bounce back in style

“The McLarens, they are very similar to us in terms of race pace, so if we don’t overtake them at the start, it’s going to be difficult to pass them on track.”

Meanwhile, Sainz was left to rue some set-up struggles as he came down from the highs of claiming pole at Monza and Marina Bay, along with a hard-fought victory at the latter venue.

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Sainz started the last two races on pole but is set to line up sixth this time out

“I think we’ve been trying a lot of things, trying to put the car a bit more on a sweet spot for this kind of track, but in the end probably we ended up getting a bit lost and having to come back to a more basic set-up,” he explained.

“I haven’t been comfortable all weekend, having to try so many things, and probably I was a bit on the back foot going into quali, but it is what it is.

MUST SEE: Watch as Sargeant crashes out in qualifying at Suzuka with Q1 red-flagged

“It’s not like a better lap or better quali would have given us much more performance or many grid positions because I think the car this weekend is there between fourth and sixth.”

Backing up Leclerc’s sentiments over Ferrari’s race pace, he signed off: “Red Bull are in a different league, McLaren honestly I have a feeling are a step quicker than us this weekend, and then everyone else… I think it’s going to be quite tight with Mercedes and Aston behind, so let’s see what we can do.”

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