Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto admitted that he has been surprised by the outright speed that Charles Leclerc has in him after the young sensation powered to a fourth successive pole position, this time for the Russian Grand Prix.
Leclerc was in another league as he claimed his sixth career pole, his fourth in a row – the feat previously accompanied a lifetime ago by Michael Schumacher during his Ferrari heyday – but most tellingly the time was a whopping four-tenths faster than his teammate Sebastian Vettel, himself no slouch.
Speaking to Sky F1 after qualifying in Sochi, Binotto admitted, “It surprises me how fast he is – he’s really very fast. That’s something which is great and important for a team – when you can count on a driver who is so fast, that’s the most you may have.
“Certainly in the races where we are maybe not our best, he can somehow try to compensate and, in the race, he’s learning – he’s learning very fast how to manage the tyres, how to manage the entire race distance.”
Mercedes do not appear to have the horsepower to take on Ferrari at this stage of the season, but they have thrust the cat among the pigeons in Sochi by opting to start the race on the Pirelli medium tyres, with their rivals on the red band softer offerings.
Binotto said of the call by the World Champions, “[It was] surprising to us, their choice, was not something we were considering, to be honest. I think we need to try to understand why they did that choice.
“We believe the soft tyre has a grip advantage at the start, the start will be key tomorrow. Different straties may do something interstsing for the race for the fans,” added the Scuderia team boss.
On his slow down lap, Leclerc said over the radion that he felt he could have done better through the final corner which would only have increased the gap in his favour.
“Yeah it felt amazing,” said the Ferrari driver afterwards. “It definitely feels great to back on pole, but I don’t know if it’s the best track to start on pole. The straight is very long after the start, so the start will be very important as always, but here probably even more because of the straight length.”
“We’ve been competitive all weekend long and the race simulations seem positive so it’s looking good for the race,” he added.