Charles Leclerc says Red Bull is still in “another league” after the reigning champions scored a third 1-2 finish in four races in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Although Leclerc claimed pole position in both qualifying sessions to take place in Baku, the Ferrari driver was swiftly overtaken by Sergio Perez in Saturday’s Sprint and both Red Bulls early in Sunday’s race.
Even with the intervention of a Safety Car up to the end of Lap 13, Leclerc still crossed the line at the conclusion of the main race 21.2s adrift of Perez’s Red Bull out front.
The massive deficit has left Leclerc admitting that it’s not possible for Ferrari to challenge Red Bull over a race distance on current form.
“Again, they are in another league when it comes to race,” he rued.
“The really good lap managed to put us at the front but over 51 laps it was just not possible, they have so much more pace than we do in race pace.
“As I said yesterday, I think they found something we didn’t yet and that’s where our focus is at the moment. Everybody is working flat out to try and understand what we can do in the races, especially to just get more performance.”
While Leclerc was unable to translate pole position into a first race win since last July, he did scoop his first podium of the season behind the dominant Red Bulls.
After retiring from two of the opening three rounds and his Saudi Arabia weekend being impacted by a grid drop, Leclerc was finally able to string together a clean weekend to deliver a second place in the Sprint before a top-three finish in the race.
Having put an end to his wretched run, Leclerc says his feeling in the SF-23 was improved this weekend but concedes that he is unsure how much Ferrari has closed the gap.
“Honestly the feeling is a little bit better but when I see the gap – and I’m pretty sure when you have this you’re not pushing at 100 per cent – so we don’t really know how much we’ve cut the gap, but the feeling is a little bit better,” he explained.
“Again, the Aston Martin was really quick today, so we still have a lot of work to do.”
Leclerc managed to successfully fend off the advances of a fast-charging Fernando Alonso in the closing stages to deny the Spaniard a fourth consecutive podium.
The 25-year-old explains that he was mindful of Alonso’s progress from eighth on the grid and was preserving his tyres to be able to respond to the Aston Martin’s pace.
“He was pushing. I mean, I knew what his intention were at the beginning, because he always does that, trying to keep the tyres at the beginning of the stint and trying to push at the end, so I was trying to do the same,” he said.
“At the end it was close but not enough for Fernando today.”
Asked about Ferrari’s prospects for the race in Miami next weekend Leclerc added: “We have some upgrades coming, but I don’t expect miracles. Hopefully, these small changes will keep them behind.”