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leclerc 2 - GP BAHRAIN F1/2023 - VENERDI 03/03/2023 credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Leclerc: There wasn’t any issue

leclerc 2 - GP BAHRAIN F1/2023 - VENERDI 03/03/2023 credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Charles Leclerc climbed out of his Ferrari while his rivals were still out doing laps in qualifying, nevertheless, his one effort in Q3 was enough to ensure he will start from third on the grid for the 2023 Formula 1 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

It would be fair to say that Ferrari unleashed more than they had shown in testing, to end up well in touch with the pace-setting Red Bull of world champion Max Verstappen.

The Scuderia expected to be further adrift of the pace setters, hence surprising that the Fred Vasseur-led team did not send Leclerc on a final run to try split the Bulls who now hog the front row for the race.

Leclerc’s early exit had pundits speculating about a problem with the Ferrari SF23, which had earlier in the session shed pieces of itself, but the driver said: “There wasn’t any issue. I think we were in the fight for pole, which was a good surprise, to be honest because I did not expect that after testing and after free practices that were a little bit difficult.”

The man from Monaco added, “We managed to find that pace for the qualifying pace, which was great. However, we need to keep in our mind that on the race runs, we seemed to be a little bit on the back foot compared to Red Bull.

“And I think that we’re in a better place starting third with new tyres than starting first with older. I don’t know if I would have been in pole or not but it would have been close,” added Leclerc, on the eve of his sixth F1 season and his 103rd Grand Prix start.

Last year, Leclerc won the race in Bahrain having started from pole position with a best time of 1:30.558; this year he did a 1:30-dead.

Sainz: We made a step forward as a team

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In the other Red car, Carlos Sainz has not been comfortable all weekend and it carried over into his qualifying, ending the night fourth fastest, 0.134s down on his teammate.

The Spaniard reported: “Today we made a step forward as a team. It’s been a difficult build-up to qualifying for me, not having had a clean day yesterday, but we reacted well today. I lost a bit in sector 2 in a couple of twitchy corners, but apart from that the feeling overall was better.

“Now we’re looking forward to tomorrow. We’ll fight until the very last lap and try to bring home a good result to get the season going,” added Sainz, ahead of his 163rd Grand Prix start on Sunday.

Ferrari started last year with a bang until Red Bull and Verstappen found the sweetspot. This year they seem to be about where they were in the pecking order, chasing the Champions who appear to have an edge.

But the Reds are also facing a much closer midfield, and although they ‘own’ row two for the Bahrain Grand Prix the posse behind also have some handy kit for what might be the closest F1 contest in ages, if they can peg the Red Bulls of course.