Charles Leclerc is full of praise for the help he got from Carlos Sainz in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, but believes he still would have taken pole position without it.
Sainz will start from the back of the grid due to a power unit penalty, but still progressed to Q3 with impressive pace. In the final part of qualifying he was used to give Leclerc a tow on both of his teammate’s runs, with Leclerc taking pole position by 0.3s from Max Verstappen.
“I was very happy [with the final lap],” Leclerc said. “Overall the weekend has been quite difficult for me. I struggled to find the right balance with the car, the right driving style. It’s very, very warm as well, so whenever you get a small snap whatsoever then the rest of the lap is compromised so it was very, very tricky.
“I was very happy with my last lap and obviously I got the help from Carlos…that helped us for that lap too, so great teamwork and a good lap.
“My driving style — in all of the other tracks, before, you could play a little bit with the rear of the car and I always like this. On a track like this with such temperatures — whenever you have those snaps then you lose later on in the lap. That’s been my problem — I was quite fast in the first sector but then losing everything in the second and third. In qualifying it’s just about doing a clean lap and it worked out in the last attempt.”
Leclerc put together his most competitive run right at the end of qualifying and, while he appreciated the gains that Sainz gave him, he believes he would have still edged out Verstappen for pole.
“It’s quite tricky to get it exactly right. I think the first lap maybe we were a bit too close in Turns 8 and 9 so I lost a little bit there and I just drove in not the best way possible. Then, in the second lap, we adapted that and it was better and that was the lap. We did a good job communication-wise and also Carlos helping me was amazing.
“It’s all in the trust at the end because I knew that Carlos was eventually going to get out of the way at some point — I just didn’t know when — but Carlos judged it perfectly and got out the way at the right moment.
“I think it’s around two tenths of what I remember in the car compared to the lap in Q2 without the tow, so it is significant. It would have been a lot more tight with Max without the tow but it was a nice help anyway.”
Despite the strong qualifying performance — with Sainz quickest in Q2 — Leclerc is wary of how strong Red Bull could be on Sunday.
“I think it will be tricky because the Red Bull guys seem to be very, very quick in the race simulations they did yesterday, so we’ve worked a little bit on the car for the race. Hopefully it will go better for us tomorrow. Tyre management will be a thing. We were good in Austria; we struggled a bit more yesterday, but I think we did a significant step up in performance since yesterday so hopefully we can show that tomorrow in the race.”