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Formula 1 Azerbaijan GP

Leclerc credits Australian GP set-up breakthrough for Baku F1 pole

Charles Leclerc says his Azerbaijan Grand Prix pole position was the culmination of the step forward Ferrari made with its 2023 Formula 1 car in Australia.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

With a 1m40.203s lap at the close of the session, Leclerc chalked up his first pole of the season - his 19th in F1 - to beat the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez to the punch.

Leclerc admitted his surprise at beating the brace of RB19s to the front of the grid, but he explained that much of the groundwork had been laid by the team during the Australian Grand Prix weekend.

Although Ferrari failed to score at Albert Park, owing to Leclerc's early retirement and Carlos Sainz's penalty for causing a final restart clash with Fernando Alonso, the team made good strides with its SF-23 amid a difficult start to the year.

Leclerc added that he felt much of Ferrari's issues in Australia had been of his own making, masking the set-up gains that the Scuderia had been able to acquire throughout the previous round.

"One thing for sure is that I think we did a step forward in Australia; on my side I obviously couldn't show it, but on Carlos's side, I think the feeling was much better during the race.

"Then how much better [we are in the race] we still need to see on Sunday. So I think on that, we still have some question marks, but I am absolutely sure that we did some steps in the right direction. I'm not sure whether it's enough [to beat Red Bull] though.

"I think there's been a good step in terms of set-up. The qualifying since the beginning of the season hasn't been that bad.

"I think in Australia, we didn't do a great job, I think I did not drive well. Before that, we weren't that far off, so I think we gained a little bit in qualifying.

Pole man Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, in Parc Ferme

Pole man Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

"I expect the game to be more in the race, but we were also much further behind in the race. But I think it's mostly set-up."

Leclerc added that Ferrari "needed" the boost of a Formula 1 pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a difficult week in the news for the team.

Ferrari was hit this week by the announcement of the departure of sporting director Laurent Mekies, who will leave the team at an undisclosed date to take up the team principal role at AlphaTauri after Franz Tost leaves at the end of 2023.

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This came amid rumours that Leclerc had been in talks with Mercedes over a potential drive at the German manufacturer, which he denied on Thursday.

"I mean, it's good. It feels good. I think for the whole team needed it because, we arrive here where it's part of our job, I think any team in Formula One, you need to deal with rumours and pressure.

"But it's obviously sometimes a bit more difficult to perform under those circumstances. And we did really well, so I think it is good for the whole team."

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