“I have no words to describe how I feel right now,” said Leclerc, after putting himself and Sauber into the final phase of qualifying for the first time this year.
“I’ve just had a smile since I passed [into] Q3 and yeah, it’s great. We all should be proud – the team and I – of what we have achieved today.”
Sauber have brought minor car upgrades to France and Leclerc used them to go 14th fastest in Friday’s second practice. The Monegasque driver managed to build on that significantly overnight.
“It’s just unbelievable,” he continued. “It’s probably the best recovery I did in my career from one day to another. Yesterday, it was a disaster, the car didn’t feel great, I was not driving very well. We changed completely the car today and I felt a lot better.
“I went to bed very late because I worked quite a lot with the engineers to find out what were the issues – they have been very good to identify the exact issues.
“They understood really well what I wanted from the car and that’s what we did today. So no crazy things really, but we did all the right things, and, yeah I’m extremely happy.”
A member of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, Leclerc has already been tipped as a potential replacement for Kimi Raikkonen next season, and their championship leader Sebastian Vettel lauded his young colleague’s performance.
“Eighth is an impressive result [as] they are a long way behind with the car,” commented the German. “He’s doing a good job – good for him and good for Sauber. Hopefully they have some chance to score points tomorrow.”
If Leclerc does score on Sunday, it will be the fourth time in five races for the 20-year-old – though he insists he is taking nothing for granted despite his stellar qualifying showing.
“It’s going to be a very difficult race for us because by the rules we need to start with our [Q2] qualy tyres which are the softest ones and that’s not great for us. So it’s going to be difficult, but we will try to maximise and hopefully we can get some points.”