The implications posed by the trial running of the Alternative Tyre Allocation (ATA) rule in Saturday qualifying were on display as several teams withheld from doing performance runs on Friday, with both Red Bull and Mercedes cars outside the top 10.
“[It’s] very difficult to read into today’s free practice,” he said. “I think it’s something we expected, being the first weekend on this format with this tyre allocation everybody’s trying different things.
“It’s nice, because I think we’ll go into qualifying not really knowing where we are – I’m sure that’s exciting – but the feeling was pretty good, so this is positive.
“I think we just have to focus on ourselves; we know where we need to improve the car, as there were some corners where I wasn’t as confident. It’s very clear for us where we need to work and then we’ll see tomorrow, but I’m sure we can do a great result here.”
Leclerc has been responsible for claiming the only non-Red Bull pole of 2023 when he eclipsed Max Verstappen in Azerbaijan.
However, the Ferrari ace maintains that Red Bull is the team to beat this weekend, despite a lowkey showing from the reigning World Champions on Friday.
Asked whether Ferrari has closed the gap to Red Bull in Hungary, Leclerc said: “I mean, they only used one set [of tyres] I think, in FP2, so we still expect them to be the strongest team.”
Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz in the sister Ferrari wound up 10th in FP2, 0.5s adrift of Leclerc.
The Spaniard had caused the second red flag of the opening session earlier in the day when he spun on a wet track at the exit of Turn 3 and beached his car on a kerb. However, he was able to continue.
Sainz was less satisfied than his team-mate with the handling of his SF-23 car on Friday and asserts Ferrari has plenty of work to do ahead of qualifying to ensure it gets ahead of a close-knit group behind Red Bull.
“The gaps are going to be close, he added. “Since the last couple of races we see everyone has converged a lot in development and performance.
“I think it’s going to be a tough weekend for everyone out there, just putting laps together and especially on such a tricky track like here. The race, everyone’s going to be on similar race pace.
“I think the first two rows [of the grid] is where we target to be as a team, but at the same time with McLaren there, with Aston [Martin] and Merc [Mercedes] and obviously Red Bull normally occupying the front row, it’s going to be a tough ask.
“If we put everything together we should be capable, although we have a lot of work to do coming from today.”