Charles Leclerc described just reaching Q3 for Sauber as ‘a miracle’ after qualifying in eighth place for the French Grand Prix.
After four straight appearances in Q2, the rookie once again advanced as both Sauber drivers made it through to the second part of qualifying. Leclerc then pulled out an excellent lap to reach Q3 for the first time in his career, and took advantage of problems for Haas to secure eighth on the grid.
“To be honest, I think the track lost a little bit of grip from Q2 to Q3 and I tried to push as much but in Sector Two I made a mistake and the same in Sector Three,” Leclerc said of his final run. “In the end I think all the midfield teams in Q3 didn’t improve their Q2 time so I think it was more of a trend for everyone.
“The top teams put everything together for Q3 so they managed to improve but I think the track was a little bit worse. I just tried to go for it because I knew that already to be in Q3 was quite a miracle but to be more than P10 in Q3 would require us to push incredibly, so I just went for it. It didn’t work out in Sectors two and three but we start P8 anyway, so it’s good.”
Leclerc was full of praise for Sauber’s improvement after Friday’s running, when he said he was struggling the the handling of his car at Paul Ricard.
“First of all it’s already incredible to be in Q3 on a normal basis, but to be in Q3 after the Friday we had yesterday is even more incredible. Yesterday was a disaster. After yesterday we weren’t even expecting to get into Q2 today. The car was very difficult to drive but the team has done an incredible job.
“I stayed quite late here with the engineers trying to figure out what the issues were and what we wanted to have on the car today to do a jump in performance, and they achieved what I asked perfectly. I think that’s the reason why we managed to perform so well today, but the recovery from Friday to Saturday if you look at it is quite crazy. So I’m really happy about being in Q3, especially with the situation like we’ve had.”
While Leclerc took advantage of a crash for Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen being held up by Kimi Raikkonen to outqualify both Haas drivers, the Monegasque is wary of the race pace of the American team.
“When I went into Q3 I said on the radio that more than tenth would be very difficult, because realistically the cars in front were a lot quicker than us. In the end Romain crashed after that and [Kimi blocked Kevin] but I knew it would be very difficult so I didn’t have any particular pressure. I just tried to do the best job possible but I did not expect P8 actually. I thought we would be P10.
“They are very quick, so it’s going to be quite tricky and quite difficult to keep them behind but we’ll try our best. They seem stronger but both didn’t manage to do the lap in Q3 which helped us to be in front, so we’ll try to keep them behind.”