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Leclerc says he has ‘best shot’ of taking pole so far this year as Sainz reflects on first day back since surgery in Melbourne

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari prepares to drive in the

Charles Leclerc was left feeling positive about Ferrari’s pace after topping the timesheets in Friday’s second practice session at the Australian Grand Prix, with the Monegasque hopeful that the team are in a better position than during the first two race weekends of the year.

Leclerc set the pace in FP2 with a lap of 1m 17.277s, putting him 0.381s ahead of Max Verstappen, who had faced a delay to his running in the session while work was carried out on the floor of his Red Bull following earlier damage sustained in FP1.

READ MORE: FP2: Leclerc sets the pace during second practice in Australia from Verstappen and Sainz

Reflecting on the opening day of track action, Leclerc commented: “It feels good for now. We’ve had a positive day from the first laps in FP1 to the end of FP2, so that’s a good start.

“However, we need to keep working very hard because I’m sure that we’ll see some surprises tomorrow, and there’s no reason for us to be a bit in front compared to everyone else tomorrow as well. There’s still margin to improve in some things – our race run was pretty good which is encouraging, but let’s keep working.”

A number of drivers experienced off-track moments during Friday’s practice sessions, and Leclerc acknowledged that the windy conditions – coupled with the characteristics of the Albert Park Circuit – were challenging.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 on track

Leclerc put himself at the top of the timesheets during Friday's running at the Australian Grand Prix

“Everything is very tricky,” he explained. “It’s a very challenging track with quite high kerbs and the wind as well. There’s also only one line, whenever you get a bit off line then you lose a lot of grip, but it makes it quite fun, so for now, we are fast so we are enjoying it, but we need to wait and see tomorrow if we are as fast.”

Leclerc lined up on the front row at the opening two races of the season, but has yet to claim pole position in 2024. Quizzed on whether he believes he has the edge in the fight for P1 on the grid this weekend, he responded: “I would say that we are in a better position than the first two races.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from FP2 at Albert Park as Leclerc leads the way and several drivers go off track

“However, Red Bull weren’t pushing yet, so we’ve got to wait and see where their potential is at, but I think they are still ahead. But we might have our best shot this weekend from the beginning of the season.”

In terms of race pace, Leclerc feels that it is still too early to say if the gap has been closed to Red Bull, but admitted that there had been positive signs during Friday’s practice.

“The race pace looked quite strong, but again it’s very difficult to compare because some drivers had a lot of traffic – we had relatively clean laps,” the Ferrari driver added. “But it looked quite good, so better that it looks good on Friday than the other way around. It’s a good start, but we still need to keep pushing and see what’s possible tomorrow.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari prepares to drive in the garage

Sainz returned to action two weeks on from having surgery following a case of appendicitis

Leclerc’s team mate Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, completed his first day back in the car after undergoing surgery following appendicitis two weeks ago.

Asked how he was feeling after FP2, Sainz answered: “Good, thank you. I feel okay, obviously a bit tired after a day of practice and not being 100 per cent physically, but I felt like I had a good day.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from second practice for the Australian Grand Prix

“I managed to complete the whole programme. If you would have told me a week ago that I could do the whole practice without issues and all that, I would have been very happy, and I’m very happy for that. Obviously I need a good night’s sleep and a good recovery for tomorrow, and yeah, I feel good.”

Sainz is optimistic that he can continue to progress during Saturday’s running, with the Spaniard hopeful that he can put himself in the battle for pole position.

“I think, particularly Charles looked very quick today,” Sainz reflected on Ferrari’s pace. “On my side obviously I took it step by step and kept into a bit of a rhythm, not at the limit of the car and not at the limit of myself yet.

“But I think with more laps and getting a bit more confident with how everything feels inside, I think I’ll be faster tomorrow and hopefully battle for that pole position... because I think it’s going to be tight. We saw in FP1, I think in FP2 we did a good step but, yeah, I think quali tomorrow is going to be more like FP1.”

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