Charles Leclerc saw victory slip away in the Sprint at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and says tire issues were to blame as Max Verstappen overtook him late on.
Verstappen started from pole position but dropped behind Leclerc off the line, with the Ferrari driver leading relatively comfortably until five laps to go when the gap dropped to under a second. Verstappen then used DRS and outbraked Leclerc around the outside into Tamburello starting the penultimate lap.
“We struggled with the tires at the end, so we need to analyze that for tomorrow,” Leclerc said. “At the end, the main race is tomorrow and we need to make sure we are ready. The pace was good until then — then we started to have some graining on the front left and lost it towards the end, but it’s life. We’ll work and come back stronger tomorrow.
“I had a very good start. We were side-by-side for Turn 1 and I could focus on my own race from that moment onwards. I tried to push at the beginning to get a bit of a gap and not allow Max to get in the DRS zone because I knew that I would have been vulnerable in that case. I paid the price a little bit later on in the race; I had some graining and really struggled in the last two or three laps. It’s like this but it’s only the sprint race and we’ll learn from this to be better tomorrow.”
Leclerc says finding a better way of managing the tires will be key to his hopes of avoiding a repeat on Sunday, as the pair will again line-up together on the front row at Imola.
“[I learned] that we need to fix the graining most of all. It felt like we damaged the tires a bit more, especially the front right for some reason. So we’ll focus on that for tomorrow’s race.
“I think the pace is quite similar. What made the difference in the end is the graining phase I went through at the end of the race and if we manage to cure that for tomorrow I’m pretty sure we’ll be in the fight for the win. If not, it’s going to be a bit more difficult. But anything is possible for tomorrow, I think.”