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Sainz hails ‘a pleasant surprise’ as Ferrari lead Red Bull with early Monza pace

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Carlos Sainz was taken aback by Ferrari’s strong start to the Italian Grand Prix weekend as the Scuderia posted the fastest lap time in both of Friday’s practice sessions at Monza.

After team mate Charles Leclerc led the way in FP1, Sainz beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to the top of the timesheets in FP2 – going against Ferrari’s own pre-event expectations.

While both Sainz and Verstappen will take grid penalties on Sunday for engine and gearbox component changes, the Spaniard drew plenty of optimism from the raw pace he and Ferrari displayed over the first two hours of track action.

READ MORE: Sainz leads Verstappen and Leclerc in second Monza practice session

"It’s been positive because, obviously, after coming from Spa – the last [lower] downforce track where we struggled a lot – we expected to not be very competitive here. But I must say that from FP1 the car has felt in a much better window, in a much better position, than where it was in Spa," said Sainz.

"Lap times were coming easy, the stopwatch doesn’t lie, and we were more and more on the pace, so it’s been a pleasant surprise. It doesn’t mean we are the fastest; I don’t think we are the fastest out there by any means, especially in the long runs. But at least we are closer than what we thought."

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‘The feeling is good’ – Leclerc wary of Red Bull but confident he can fight for pole at Monza

Leclerc, who finished just under two-tenths of a second off Sainz’s 1m 21.664s benchmark, offered a similarly positive outlook over Ferrari’s start to the weekend as they look to make inroads into Verstappen and Red Bull’s significant championship leads.

"I don’t know how much Red Bull was sandbagging, so let’s wait and see tomorrow when they put everything together. But today the feeling was really good, so I hope that we can keep that feeling," said Leclerc.

READ MORE: Horner explains Red Bull engine penalties at Monza as Verstappen says he’s ‘not worried’ about Ferrari’s pace

As for what he needs to work on to overturn his FP2 deficit to Sainz and Verstappen, and putting grid penalties to one side, Leclerc expressed hope that everything will be in order on his side of the garage come qualifying.

He added: "[It's] just overall, finding the sweet spot for the balance, [as] I still didn’t find it exactly. We tried many different things today, so we haven’t been very consistent with the car balance. But overall, I think we found the direction we want to go in and it's looking good for tomorrow."

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