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Leclerc: We were all very close apart from Max and Checo

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In July, Ferrari spoilt the party at Red Bull’s home race in Austria, with Charles Leclerc winning on their turf, this weekend they seem intent on also spoiling Max Verstappen’s homecoming.

With both 2022 Formula 1 world titles slipping away, the Scuderia really need to hammer home some solid results, wins of course and to make matters better one-twos.

Basically what they did today in free practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, with Leclerc a mere four-thousandths of a second  quicker than teammate Carlos Sainz

The team reported: “The drivers worked on both race and qualifying set-up and a study of today’s data will guide the engineers’ choices when it comes to fine-tuning the cars for Saturday.

“Grid positions are particularly important at Zandvoort because it is so twisty and narrow. As usual, qualifying looks like being very close, but particularly so here, as the lap is quite short at just 4.259 kilometres in length. Therefore the slightest detail can make the difference.”

Indeed, next best behind the Reds was Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes, only 0.031s adrift of the Ferrari pair, with the top seven drivers within half a second of the top time. It’s very close at this stage.

Leclerc reported at the end of day one in Holland: “We picked up the pace a little in FP2, but we were not quite there with the car balance on my side. There’s some work ahead of us and I’m confident we can make a step forward by tomorrow.”

Red Bull had a problematic day they are sure to up the ante on Saturday

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The Monegasque added: “We were all very close apart from Max and Checo, but I don’t think they had a clean day so it will be interesting.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had an issue in FP1, and in the late session was only good for eighth on the timesheets, albeit seven tenths down on the top time; Sergio Perez in the sister car also struggled, half a second down on the #1 car and only 12th fastest on the day.

What a difference five days make, as Red Bull were the class act at the very different and open-plan Spa-Francorchamps but at the more compact and short Zandvoort, their power is not as ominous and the package not as ruthlessly as effective, for now.

In the other car, Sainz was the form Ferrari driver at Spa-Francorchamps and was satisfied at the end of day one at Zandy: “Overall it was a good Friday here in Zandvoort. It was great to be back at such a demanding and challenging track for drivers and cars, so I enjoyed it a lot.

“Performance-wise, it was a clean Friday and we completed the run plan without any issues, both for the long and short runs. It seems to be tight with our closest rivals, so any performance we can find overnight will definitely help us going into qualifying,” added Sainz.

Ferrari could do with a big win on Verstappen’s turf, turn the orange to red as the championship standings make for grim reading after 14 rounds with the Dutchman top of the 2022 F1 drivers’ standings, 98 points ahead of Leclerc.

In the constructors’ standings, Ferrari trail Red Bull by 118 points with eight races remaining on the 2022 calendar. Last year Verstappen won the race at Zandvoort, Leclerc was fifth and Sainz seventh.

This year the latter two need to inflict substantial damage to stay in the hunt in both championships, a Verstappen win will be another nail in the coffin of their 2022 campaign.