Charles Leclerc may have read our Jeddah FP3 headline: “Red Bull on another planet?” The Ferrari driver came to the same conclusion we did after a bittersweet qualifying for him at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix today.
After a week of turmoil and reported chaos at Maranello, Leclerc benefitted from Max Verstappen’s driveshaft failure to his Red Bull, and ran Sergio Perez close for pole but, in the end, he was a tenth and a bit shy of the Mexican who starts from the top spot on the grid.
However, thanks to an engine penalty Leclerc, drops down to twelfth; after the session he summed up his qualifying evening: “Happy? Yes and no. “On one hand, it has been a very difficult weekend in terms of pace for us but on my lap I think I put everything into it and it was really on the limit.
“On the other hand, Red Bull are on another planet and we are struggling a little but so we need to keep pushing but that is what we are doing as a team.
“[The race] isn’t going to be easy. I have a 10-place grid penalty so we will be starting a little bit further back but we will focus on the race and hopefully come back to the front as quickly as possible.
“The race pace looked quite good but it is very difficult to compare. We will see but it is not going to be easy because I think everyone is going to be very close on race pace. Our race pace looks solid this weekend. It’s not easy to overtake on this track, so I will do my best to fight my way back to the front,” ventured the Monegasque.
Sainz: Not the best of qualifyings from my side
In contrast, teammate Carlos Sainz had a forgettable qualifying on a weekend in which he appears uncomfortable in the Ferrari, and it showed in a scrappy qualifying for the Spaniard.
He ended fifth fastest, albeit his best lap was half a second down on Leclerc’s effort. But the pressure will be on the Spaniard to take the fight to the rivals ahead s his teammate starting from 12th due to the Pu penalty.
Sainz acknowledged: “Not the best of qualifyings from my side to be honest. I struggled with the tyres into the first few corners and lost time there. The rest of the lap felt good, but it wasn’t enough to make up for Sector 1. My bad.
“However, the weekend is not over and we have the pace to fight for a step on the podium, so we’ll reset tonight and come back at it in the race,” added Sainz.
Last year, Verstappen won the race in Jeddah, with Ferrari duo Leclerc and Sainz sharing the podium with him. With Red Bull’s reigning F1 World Champion starting 15th, anything can happen as we saw last year with his P15 to victory drive.