Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc says that taking risks, especially in the Turn 6 right-hander, was key to taking pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.
Leclerc was third fastest in Q1 and Q2, but went fastest on the first runs in Q3 seconds before the red flag was thrown after Fernando Alonso crashed his Alpine. But as that lap would only have been good enough for second behind Verstappen, the improvement of nearly 0.4s on his final run secured him a third consecutive pole position.
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“It was a good lap,” said Leclerc. “I took quite a bit of risk, especially in Turn 6, which was quite tricky.
“I wasn’t really on it during qualifying in this corner, just doing some mistakes and then in the last few Q3 lap, I managed to make it right and I gained quite a bit on myself compared to the other laps.
“But I’m very happy with the lap, especially on a track like this where I’ve always struggled in the past. And also, in free practice, even though we were competitive, it was very difficult to put a lap together and I was just doing quite a lot of mistakes. So I was working on consistency and managed to put that lap together in Q2”
Although plenty of his rivals were also struggling to string laps together, Leclerc said he also struggled at Albert Park on his two previous visits here, with Sauber for his F1 debut in 2018 and for his first race for Ferrari a year later.
“To be honest, I was struggling also on the previous layout. I’ve always struggled with these type of corners that are not really 90 degrees — it’s just a bit strange. I’ve always struggled with my driving style here.
“But it’s also an overall thing for the drivers. It’s a very challenging track for us drivers and it was even trickier with the [low] sun. In Q2, we just couldn’t see anything. In Q3, it was a little bit better, the first run was good and the second run wasn’t. It was a very tricky session.
Leclerc anticipates a hard-fought race on Sunday, saying “we are very close with Red Bull.”
Verstappen, who will start second ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, also expects to be stronger on race pace having struggled for single-lap performance so far this weekend.
“It’s been terrible for me, the whole weekend so far,” said Verstappen. “Just not a good balance, all the time chasing something and I never felt comfortable for one lap — except on the long runs.
“It’s just been a big struggle and clearly we didn’t really seem to fix it even in qualifying. I just struggled a lot with the balance of the car and it just doesn’t give you confidence to push.
“Also, on my first run in Q3, it started to feel a bit better and I was actually hooking it up, but then I locked up again in one corner just because of a random balance shift.”