Leclerc: Struggling to put tyres in right window

Leclerc: Struggling to put tyres in the right window

Leclerc: Struggling to put tyres in right window

Charles Leclerc put his recent disappointing qualifying performances down to his inability to put the tyres in the right window ahead of a flying lap.

Ever since he joined Formula 1 back in 2018, Leclerc has been known for his last minute great qualifying laps, and is looked at by many as one of the best qualifiers out there, if not the best.

But recently, the Ferrari star has been struggling in qualifying, and was beaten by teammate Carlos Sainz for two races in a row – Australia and Japan – which is strange since qualifying is not usually the Spaniard’s forte.

In the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend, Leclerc qualified only eighth, Sainz fourth, the latter going on to finish third, the former – with a decent Ferrari one-stop strategy – finished fourth.

“There was nothing we could have done better,” Leclerc said on Sunday after the race. “The pace was really good, tyre management was really good, communication was really good.

“However, as a driver, you always have to look at the negative over the whole weekend,” he admitted, “and whether it’s in Australia or here, race pace has not been a problem – it’s my qualifying pace, which is not something that I’ve been very used to in my career to be working on my qualifying pace, because normally it’s pretty good on the Saturday.

“However, since two races now in a row, I’ve been struggling to put the tyres in the right window,” the Monegasque pointed out, “and this is definitely my main focus now going into Shanghai, to try and refine the right window, the tyres, and for me to put them more consistently inside that window. Then once I’ll do that, I’m sure the pace will come back in qualy.”

When asked if there were other contributing factors for his qualifying slump, Leclerc insisted on the tyre-factor, he added: “My laps weren’t that bad.

The lap is good but the time is not

“Yesterday [Saturday in Japan], the lap I have done was actually really good,” he maintained. “But the grip that was available from the tyres was just not there, and this is because I do a bad job on the lap before, which is very frustrating because you finish a lap and you’re happy, but actually you’re nowhere.

“So I’ve got to focus on that. It’s very fine, like very little differences. However, I’m confident that by analyzing well the data – we’ve got a week before Shanghai – and whenever I focused on something I improve quite quickly on it.

“So I’m not too concerned. But I need to do this step forward for Shanghai now,” the 23-time polesitter vowed.

Ferrari in 2024 seem to have sorted out a weakness that plagued them before which is high tyre degradation over the course of a grand prix. While in 2023 their car was rapid on one flying lap, it was aggressive on tyres come race day compromising the team’s results.

But the SF-24 doesn’t seem to suffer from that issue, which suggests that getting the tyres ready for qualifying is more difficult, something Leclerc is yet to master an area where Sainz seems to have succeeded.

“We are also much more consistent,” added, referring to Ferrari’s improved race pace in 2024. “Last year, it was very easy for us to do a small mistake with the setup and be completely off in the race and be much further away than what we would expect.

“The car is much more solid in the race, which is nice. At least we finished a weekend on a high, rather than starting it on a high and then being not too happy the Sunday night. So it’s good that way.

“Now I need to put everything together on the Saturday and then I’m sure we’ll have many more happy weekends,” the 26-year-old concluded.

Leclerc is currently third in the 2024 Drivers’ Championship, but only four points ahead of teammate Sainz – who missed the Saudi race due to appendix surgery –  who is currently fourth and already won a race in Australia. (Reporting by Agnes Carlier from Suzuka)