Leclerc’s honest post-qualifying assessment: “Red Bull are quite far ahead”

Jaden Diaz

Charles Leclerc excelled in qualifying around the streets of Jeddah, although the Monegasque driver has given a less optimistic forecast of the SF-23.

The 25-year-old maximized the performance of Ferrari’s 2023 machine, just over a tenth behind Sergio Perez in a clearly superior RB19.

Leclerc’s 10-place grid penalty will complicate his race at today’s Saudi Arabia GP, especially given the impressive pace shown by Aston Martin, Mercedes and even Alpine in FP2.

Still, the Ferrari driver will hope to minimize the damage caused by the series of power-unit-related issues suffered by the Italian squad at the first round in Bahrain.

Leclerc was asked if he was encouraged by his performance in qualifying:

“Not that much. In the lap, I’m really, really happy. It was really on the limit. 

“On the other hand, I feel like Red Bull are quite far ahead. And that is our goal, to beat them. 

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23.
03.17.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Practice Day.
–, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

“So there’s still a lot of work to do. Having said that, I think it’s a bit better than what we expected for this qualifying session.”

“We expected to be a bit further back. But there’s a lot of work to do…

“I think our race pace is stronger this weekend. So this is a good thing. Then, I don’t know how easy it is going to be to overtake on this track because the midfield seems to be all extremely close in terms of race peace. 

“And if you have a DRS train, then it makes things very difficult. But I’ll give my best, try to come back to the front as quickly as possible. And we’ll see what happens.”

Max Verstappen’s drive shaft issue in Q2 shows the RB19 is not infallible, although it remains unclear if reliability will be a persistent issue for Red Bull in the upcoming rounds.

FP2 Saudi Arabia

In any case, watching Leclerc and Verstappen climb through the field will no doubt make for fantastic viewing.

With the 2023 F1 season only in its infancy, there is still plenty to learn about the pecking order – especially in race trim.

The characteristics of Jeddah’s 27-turn circuit mean that tire degradation is quite limited, so the Saudi GP will be especially intense for the drivers.

Numerous DRS zones will promote overtaking and emphasizing the discrepancies in set-up between the teams, with Ferrari and Red Bull enjoying impressive figures in the speed trap.

Leclerc’s realist assessment of the deficit between Ferrari and Red Bull does not bode well for the Scuderia’s chances this year, but there will still be opportunities on the streets of Jeddah.