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Leclerc: Mercedes F1 one-lap pace “a bit of a surprise"

Ferrari Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc admits that the pace of rivals Mercedes in Bahrain on Thursday came as “a bit of a surprise”.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

Erik Junius

Mercedes had a low-key test at Sakhir in terms of outright pace, but the Brackley team topped the times in FP2, with Lewis Hamilton ahead of George Russell.

Carlos Sainz was fourth for Ferrari, 0.395s down on pacesetter Hamilton, while Leclerc made a mistake on his quick lap and thus did not set a representative time in ninth.

However, the Monegasque driver believes that the team is in a good position.

“It felt alright, again no big surprises at least on our side, so that is a good thing again,” said Leclerc on Thursday evening. “No bad surprises, no good surprises either, just exactly as we expected the car to be.

“In FP2 I made a small mistake on my fast lap. It’s a one-lap tyre, so that was it. But apart from that it's all about tomorrow now, trying to focus to do a step forward.

“Mercedes looks strong, which is a bit of a surprise, but we don't know with what fuel [load] they are running. So I think we'll have all our answers tomorrow."

Leclerc acknowledged that the SF-24 showed promise over a long run.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

"Yes, that looked quite good,” he said. “The feeling was quite good, again I felt quite good with the car and it's a much better start compared to last year, where last year we arrived at the first race and it was very difficult to know exactly what was the right window where we can optimise our car.

“Today it’s not the case, we know that we are in the right window for performing at our best with this specific car. Now it's all about tomorrow, to try and anticipate the conditions of tomorrow, and make the best out of this weekend."

Regarding Ferrari’s potential form, he added: "I expect to be there with the others. The only question mark is obviously Red Bull, how far ahead they are in front, but with the others, I'll be surprised if we are not in the mix."

Leclerc’s team-mate Sainz also acknowledged that the Mercedes FP2 pace was not expected.

"It just shows that you now can never look into testing because people tend to always not show all their cards,” said the Spaniard.

“And it's clear that Mercedes are going to be in the fight, and Red Bull in the long run they were a lot quicker than in the short run, so I expect them to be also stronger tomorrow and Sunday."

Asked what could be improved overnight Sainz highlighted a brake issue that had plagued him on Thursday.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"First of all we need to have a look at the brakes,” he said. “We've had a lot of problems today, issues with the brakes, material and with the brake consistency, which is something that hasn't happened all testing, but for some reason today FP1 and FP2 were compromised.

“And second just try to fine-tune the balance, especially for the long run, where we seem to be a bit on the more aggressive side of the tyres, and we need to put together a better long-run package.

“It felt quite tricky out there because it was the windiest day that we've had in Bahrain so far. So the car in FP1 and FP2 was, with the wind, a bit trickier to drive than in the tests.

“And we've seen a lot of teams being very competitive. Very tight field out there today again, so looks like should be an interesting weekend."

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