Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur is admanat that qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix was “not too bad” for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the pair P4 and P6 respectively this Saturday in the wake of their victory last Sunday in Singapore.
But with the Red Bulls back in full flight, particularly Max Verstappen who powered to a spectacular pole, leaving the best of the Red cars wanting six tenths to be on par. A week ago Sainz was on pole and Leclerc in P3.
Fresh from celebrating his first victory as a Ferrari F1 boss, Vasseur summed up their Saturday in the team report: “Today’s result is not too bad, but our session started on the back foot in Q1 as we wasted a set of Softs because of the red flag triggered by Sargeant.
“It meant both our drivers had just one new set of tyres each for Q3 and so they had to give it their best shot on just one run and Charles managed to get within eight hundredths of the front row.
“It’s been clear from the start of the weekend that, apart from Red Bull, McLaren also has excellent pace, but ours was not bad on Friday and in qualifying, with lower temperatures than in the morning free practice, we were in better shape, even if it’s generally much hotter than usual this year in Suzuka,” explained Vasseur.
With Red Bull set to seal the 2023 F1 Constructors’ title on Sunday, the focus for the remaining races including Suzuka is the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes for the runner-up spot. The German team are 24 points ahead of the Italians, in a contest that is sure to go down to the wire. McLaren may even play a role should their form remain as it is.
Ahead of his 16th Grand Prix as Ferrari boss, Vasseur focussed on the positives from the afternoon at Suzuka for the Scuderia: “We are starting ahead of our closest rivals in the fight for second place in the Constructors’ championship and we must make the most of our grid positions.
“So we will be looking for a clean start in order to run a strategy that allows us to look after our tyres. We continue to bring updates to our car, as we want to fight all the way to the very end,” added Vasseur, alas only for second place of course.
Leclerc: Tyre management and strategy will be key
Outquailfied by Sainz in the three races before this weekend, Leclerc found his famous Qualy mojo to go fastest of the pair and nab a second row start. The gap between them was a quite substantial three tenths of a second. Charles reported: “I’m happy with my lap, because it was the maximum we could have done.
“We lost the most in sector 1, so we will look into that and try to understand what we can work on to improve. With the warm temperatures here this year, the risk of overheating is higher than usual, which means that tyre management and strategy will be key.
“Red Bull have been very fast all weekend and McLaren seem to have a similar race pace as we do, so it will be important to get the start right,” added Leclerc who finished third here last year, his best result from the three times he has raced F1 at Suzuka.
Seven days ago Sainz shone under the lights of Singapore, claiming pole on the night. His final Q3 lap better than Leclerc could manage. Thus, the Spaniard may well be scratching his head wondering where his teammate found over a quarter of a second in Qualifying today.
Sainz summed up his afternoon: “It was a difficult qualifying. We knew before coming here that this track would expose our weakness a bit more and, with its high speed characteristics and long corners, we knew it was never going to be easy.
“I’ve tried many different things and set-ups since yesterday, with the aim of putting the car in a better place, but it clearly didn’t work. I didn’t do a good lap in Q3 either, so we’ll start P6 tomorrow.
“We’ll fight to get some good points tomorrow and we’ll be ready to grab any opportunities,” added Sainz, who lies fifth in the 2023 F1 Drivers’ standings, 19 ahead of Leclerc in sixth and trailing fourth placed Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso by 28 points with seven rounds remaining.