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Formula 1 Austrian GP

Leclerc hopes to exploit special F1 sprint race DRS rule against Verstappen

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc hopes the special sprint race DRS rule will help him take on Max Verstappen for victory in the opening race of Formula 1’s 2023 Austrian Grand Prix.

Pole man Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, congratulate each other after Qualifying

Ferrari and Red Bull being closely matched on one-lap speed this weekend has raised hopes of a possible race-long battle between them in the sprint event – if Leclerc and Verstappen repeat their qualifying result in the shootout session.

Should that happen and Verstappen heads his 2022 title rival on the grid for Saturday afternoon’s race – a situation that is not guaranteed after the wet start to proceedings at the Red Bull Ring – Leclerc is hoping that DRS becoming active on the second lap of sprint races rather than the third in a grand prix will aid Ferrari in sticking close to Red Bull.

“There's this new rule that after the first lap now we can activate DRS during the sprint, if I'm not wrong, which obviously helps us a little bit as with DRS here you can stay within one second a little bit easier,” he said after qualifying second for the GP.

“But again, they've got a lot of pace, so it's going to be difficult anyway.”

Leclerc and his team-mate Carlos Sainz are not getting carried away about their chances of beating Verstappen in either Red Bull Ring race, as the two squads have “two very different cars since last year”, per Leclerc – in reference to his 2022 Austrian GP win over Verstappen.

This is because Ferrari is not sure it can convert the promise it showed over a race stint in Canada into consistent improved tyre degradation, which has been its key weakness against Red Bull.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Alex Albon, Williams FW45

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Alex Albon, Williams FW45

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

“A short stint on the sprint race is still a pretty long stint for the tyres that we might use,” Sainz said of Ferrari’s race pace potential in Austria.

“Because we are talking about 20-something laps, which is more or less the stint length that you do on a normal race, so deg, race pace still plays a massive part in that.

“It is true that last year we managed to put Max under pressure and beat him eventually. But it's a different year, a different car. They've become a lot stronger since then.

“Actually, I think Austria last year was their only, or the last weak race let's say, if we put it that way. Since then they've been amazing in the race.

“It will be extremely difficult to fight them. But anything can happen, like always in F1.”

Leclerc also said that Ferrari adding “a bit more front wing for the last run in Q3” backfired, when considering his 0.048s gap to Verstappen at the end of that session.

“It probably was a tiny bit too much,” he added. “But at the end it’s part of the game.

“[I was] very close to pole position, which is a good sign. But we all know that our weakness is the race.

“So, we are waiting for the race to try and see if we confirm the positive signs that we've seen in Montreal.

“The team has done a great job by putting so much effort into bringing the [front wing and floor front] upgrades earlier than what was planned. And that helped us to have a good feeling with the car [in qualifying].”

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