Charles Leclerc surprised, but doubts Ferrari can challenge Mercedes

Charles Leclerc in action for Ferrari at the British Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc expressed optimism over his pace during Formula 1 qualifying in Britain, but cast doubt over Ferrari’s prospects of challenging Mercedes in race trim.

Leclerc stormed to the top of the timesheets during final practice on Saturday morning and led the way through Q2, before classifying a close third in qualifying.

Leclerc’s final Q3 effort left him just 0.079s down on pole sitter Valtteri Bottas, three positions and seven-tenths of a second in front of struggling Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

“I’m very, very happy with my lap,” said Leclerc, who has now out-qualified Vettel at the last three events.

“I think in the last corner, I maybe could have done a little bit better but not much.

“Overall I think we are very happy with the performance, very close to Mercedes.

“We did not expect it, we thought we would be struggling more this weekend. We have been struggling since FP1 with the front end of the car, still in qualifying but a little bit less.

“So yeah, it’s a good qualifying session for us. Of course we hope for a higher position, but third I think was quite good today.”

Leclerc nonetheless poured cold water on the notion of Ferrari being able to put up a fight to Mercedes across the course of the 52-lap grand prix.

“We look at the Friday race simulations, I think it’s going to be very difficult, at least Lewis [Hamilton]’s race run was very, very strong,” said Leclerc. “We need to work on that.

“Red Bull seems to be very quick also in the race, so it’s going to be tricky.

“If we can manage to gain some positions at the start, it’s a track that’s quite hard to overtake, so then we have some chance, but if not, I guess it’s going to be very difficult to beat them.”