Charles Leclerc was left surprised by the pace shown by Red Bull during Friday practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, after Max Verstappen finished third quickest.
Verstappen was quicker than Ferrari in Australia but struggled compared to the top two teams last time out in Bahrain, following Red Bull’s switch to Honda power. On Friday in China, Verstappen was fourth in FP1 and then third in FP2, setting the fastest first sector as he ended up 0.221s slower than Valtteri Bottas with pace that caught Leclerc’s eye.
“I think it will be very close,” Leclerc said. “Mercedes and also Red Bull are actually quite close, so will be an interesting battle.
“Mercedes and Red Bull, well… everyone is pretty close here. We definitely did not expect Red Bull to be so close, but it’s a good surprise, at least there will be some fight on track. Really looking forward to it.”
Leclerc had other issues to worry about during second practice as Ferrari opted to end his running to attend to a cooling system issue, but the 21-year-old believes he has the performance in hand to challenge for pole position on Saturday.
“FP2 was not great, we had to stop for further checks on something on the oil; we will check it but no big issues. In terms of performance I think we are there. In FP2 I didn’t have a clean lap, so pointless to look at performance but overall I think I’m pretty happy with the car. Still some work to do on the balance here and there but should be fine for tomorrow.
“I just had traffic on my lap in FP2, then I had to abort, and with these tires you just get one lap. So it will be critical tomorrow in qualifying to do the first lap well because already from the second lap… well, we probably won’t get any second lap, but anyway in the second lap you drop off quite a lot with the tires. No big deal — I think performance is there, and hopefully tomorrow will be a good day.”