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Leclerc shares ‘big surprise’ that compromised his Chinese GP as Sainz says Ferrari ‘need to do better’

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SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 leads Sergio

Charles Leclerc has conceded that his and Ferrari’s relative lack of pace on the hard compound tyre during Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix came as a “big surprise”, with the Scuderia having to settle for distant P4 and P5 finishes.

Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz faced challenges from the start of the race, initially falling to the tail-end of the top 10 when George Russell’s Mercedes and Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas slipped ahead on the opening lap and forcing them to work their way back in front.

READ MORE: Verstappen charges to victory over Norris and Perez in action-packed Chinese GP

As the encounter settled down, it transpired that both Ferraris, alongside McLaren’s Lando Norris, were attempting to pull off a medium-to-hard tyre one-stop strategy, with the lead Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez opting for two pit lane visits instead.

While Norris made the most of a Virtual Safety Car and two full Safety Car periods to clear Perez, Leclerc felt the interventions hindered Ferrari’s efforts as the Monegasque and Sainz wound up fourth and fifth following their particularly long stints on hards, which proved unfavourable on the SF-24.

Asked to reflect on his race, and if he was surprised by McLaren’s performance relative to Ferrari as the afternoon unfolded, Leclerc commented: “I think as a team we were quite confident that our race pace was very strong.

Race Highlights: 2024 Chinese Grand Prix

“However, we didn’t drive on the hard [during the weekend] until now and once we put the hard on we were slower than what we expected, so that was a big surprise. Especially McLaren were very, very strong on the hard.

“Having said that, I think we have also been put on the backfoot with the Safety Car, because that put us in the same strategy as everybody and until that moment I was doing a really, really good job with the tyres, and I was very confident that we could do a great race. After that it was much more difficult.”

READ MORE: Verstappen hails ‘amazing’ weekend in China as he takes victory amid multiple restarts

While Leclerc’s sole stop came under the Virtual Safety Car, Sainz had pitted just before, meaning some precious seconds lost relative to his team mate as the Spaniard explained the Grand Prix from his perspective.

“A bit of a tough race for us,” he said. “First of all, I think we need to review the start because we had a strange line there through Turn 1, Turn 2, which meant that the Mercedes and the Haas passed both Charles and I, which cost us probably a bit of race time.

‘P5 was the maximum today’ insists Sainz after ‘tough’ Chinese GP

“Then the timing of the Safety Car wasn’t ideal because everyone could put a new tyre [on] in front of me, and I was left with a very old tyre for the last stint and I had to nurse the tyre home for a P5. Considering all of this, I think P5 today was the maximum, so not too bad.”

Asked about Norris and McLaren’s run to the podium, Sainz conceded: “I think this weekend they’ve been stronger, as simple as that. I think McLaren, in this kind of circuit, they’ve shown a better pace than us.

READ MORE: Norris thrilled with ‘surprise’ Chinese GP podium as he reveals pre-race Ferrari bet

“On top of that, we qualified behind and we got in trouble in the first lap, then there’s no chance we’re going to beat them. We need to do better next time.”

Ferrari remain second in the constructors’ standings following their latest double score, but the Maranello operation have now slipped 44 points behind leaders and reigning world champions Red Bull.

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