Charles Leclerc admits he was concerned about being eliminated in Q1 before ending up with a “surprise” front row in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Having classified fifth in the final practice hour earlier in the day, Leclerc was only ninth in Q3 following his opening run in the final segment on a used set of Soft tyres.
But the Ferrari racer strung together an exceptional final sector, the quickest of any driver, to elevate his way up to second, only 0.139s shy of polesitter Max Verstappen.
Leclerc was confused by the “peaky” nature of Ferrari’s unpredictable SF-23 car during Q3, leaving him stunned that he eclipsed Ferrari’s nearest rivals to seize second place.
“For some reason, again, our car is very peaky so whenever we are on scrubbed tyres, like the first run in Q3 was a very good lap, but we were last,” he explained.
“I didn’t have many hopes. But then when we put on the new tyres, everything comes alive.
“It felt great. Again, I did a great lap. Really happy to be on the front row. But it’s a big surprise.”
Leclerc concedes that Ferrari’s struggles on Saturday at the Yas Marina Circuit had instilled fear within that he could even miss out on the pole position shootout.
Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz was a shock casualty in Q1, lamenting traffic as he dropped out in the opening stage.
“Honestly, considering the weekend we’ve had until now, I did not expect it at all, the last lap. I knew I had to put absolutely everything together,” Leclerc acknowledged.
“I did the last corner, was a bit too much sliding. But I think everybody has had that.
“Q1 and Q2, I was worried to go through and at the end a front row, so it’s amazing.”
Ferrari have entered the final round of the campaign only four points behind Mercedes in the battle for second place in the Constructors’ Championship.
With the two Mercedes cars set to start fourth and 11th, Leclerc is hoping that Sainz can progress rapidly up the order to ensure the Italian marque secure second.
Leclerc added: “I hope it’s going to go well. That’s the target. It is to beat [Mercedes] in the Constructors’ Championship.
“I really hope Carlos can have a great start and then join me in the fight.
“Let’s try and put both of our cars in front of both Mercedes and come back home with a second place in the Constructors’. That is all that matters to me this weekend.”