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Mixed feelings at Ferrari after Suzuka qualifying as Sainz hails ‘massive’ improvement while Leclerc mystified by struggles

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: 8th placed qualifier Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari walks in parc

It was a day of mixed emotions for Ferrari after qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, with Carlos Sainz left satisfied with his performance en route to P4 while Charles Leclerc struggled to match his team mate, ending the session in P8.

With the Scuderia having arrived at Suzuka with the expectation of the track not entirely suiting their car, Sainz was pleased to put himself as close to the top three as possible. The Spaniard will line up alongside former McLaren team mate Lando Norris on the second row of the grid, while the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez secured P1 and P2 respectively.

READ MORE: Verstappen beats Perez to pole by 0.066s in Suzuka as Norris seals P3

Asked if P4 was a good position to start the race from given the pace of the Ferrari so far this weekend, Sainz responded: “I think so. I think we maximised everything today. Already in FP3 we saw the top three today was going to be tricky, so to be top four… It was a very clean lap, some very good laps from myself today and, yeah, happy with the performance.

“Unfortunately we don’t have quite the edge this weekend to battle the Red Bulls and [we’re] still two-tenths behind McLaren. We’ve improved massively compared to last year around here, but still, it’s one of our weakest tracks.”

Given a lack of running for most of the field in Friday’s FP2 session due to rain falling at Suzuka, many teams do not have much long run data ahead of Sunday’s race. In terms of whether this could present an opportunity, Sainz was optimistic that he could put himself in the fight for a spot on the rostrum.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 on track during

Sainz will start the Japanese Grand Prix from P4 on the grid

“I think hopefully in the race we can be a bit closer to Lando and battle for the podium,” the three-time race winner commented. “I think the Red Bulls are too quick, and I think Lando and the Mercs will be in the fight, so it’s going to be an interesting fight for the podium and let’s see what the Red Bulls do.”

On the other side of the garage, Leclerc was not feeling so positive after a disappointing qualifying session. The Monegasque had to use two sets of soft tyres to avoid elimination from Q1, resulting in him later having to rely on one flying lap in Q3.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix

His effort put him in P7, before he was pushed down to P8 as his rivals took to the track for their second runs. Leclerc was heard saying over the team radio that the lap was the “best” he could do, before adding: “I don’t get it.”

Elaborating on the issues further after qualifying, Leclerc said of the situation: “It’s not good. Obviously especially on a qualifying like this, where if I rely on the feeling, the feeling is pretty good. If I look at the lap times after that, it’s a disaster.

2024 Japanese GP FP3: Unhappy Leclerc questions Ferrari run plan over team radio

“It’s one of those races where, when it’s the case normally it’s more the grip available from the car, but I don’t quite have the explanation why we will have less grip, why I will struggle quite a lot more compared to Carlos until Q3 where maybe I was in a bit of a better shape, but overall I have struggled a lot.

“So nothing off, no mistakes, just slow, and I’m not happy with this of course. We’ll have to look into it and try and understand what was going wrong with the tyres and why the grip available wasn’t as high as what I expected.”

READ MORE: Leclerc opens up on Bianchi tribute helmet as he says former Ferrari protégé ‘needs to be remembered’

When asked if this was one of the toughest spots he has found himself in – in terms of trying to understand why the car is not delivering as he would expect it to – the 26-year-old answered: “No, it’s definitely not been the toughest place I have found myself in. This happens sometimes in a season.

“Today has been one of them, and we’ve got to look into it. Normally when it’s like this it’s more about tyre preparation. This year especially we’ve been struggling a little bit to get the sweet spot of those tyres on the out lap, so we will look into it and try to understand.”

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