Charles Leclerc has so far set himself up for a productive race in Portugal, the Ferrari driver qualifying P4 on Saturday, just 0.438s adrift from poleman Lewis Hamilton.
Ferrari’s recent updates to its SF1000 car have undeniably improved the Scuderia’s level of performance, with the Italian outfit steadily moving back up the pecking order in terms of raw speed.
But Leclerc nevertheless needed to pull out the stops and even more to extract the most of his prancing horse on his final run in Q3 – a superb demonstration of speed, skill and style.
Previously, the Scuderia charger had progressed through qualifying’s first two segments without any drama, ensuring his spot among the top ten while opting to start Sunday’s race on Pirelli’s medium compound tyre.
And for the second qualifying session running, the Monegasque’s best effort in Q3 yielded fourth position, just 0.186s behind third-placed man Max Verstappen.
“We definitely did not expect it, I think we expected a better result than usual, taking off the fourth place in Nürburgring, but to be so close to pole position was a surprise,” the Ferrari driver told Sky F1.
Leclerc said a slight pick up in wind velocity towards the end of qualifying made for a “tricky” final run.
“I’m very happy with the lap, especially considering the conditions,” he added. “In the last two runs in Q3, the wind picked up and in the last sector it was very very tricky.
“But I managed to do quite a good last sector anyway. There’s always more to give but happy.”
Read also: Hamilton snatches last gasp pole from Bottas at Portimão
Looking ahead, the Ferrari driver admitted that his launch off the grid might be complicated by his position on the dirty side of the track.
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“We are starting also on the medium which is maybe a bit tricky, but we’ll see, for now we can’t know,” he said.
“I believe the medium is a good choice to start with. The only tricky part will be the start, but we can’t know until we do it.”
Asked about the difference between Ferrari’s qualifying pace at the Nürburgring and its performance the following day in race trim, Leclerc isn’t expecting such a contrast on Sunday.
“We struggled a lot with the draining there, ” he said. “Conditions were quite a bit different, a lot colder, but I don’t expect those kinds of problems tomorrow.
“Maybe we are wrong but I think it should be much better tomorrow.”
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