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Leclerc: No answer for "once in a season" Japan F1 qualifying struggle

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc does not “have an answer” for a Formula 1 session that happens only “once in a season” after struggling in qualifying for the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Leclerc, renowned for his one-lap pace, was only eighth fastest as he lapped 0.589 seconds slower than polesitter Max Verstappen while outgoing Scuderia team-mate Carlos Sainz ranked fourth.

But the Monegasque was at a loss to explain the disappointing performance on his side of the garage, implying that it was just a freak episode that only happens “once in a season” as the fundamentals of the SF-24 car felt sound enough.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Leclerc explained: “It's one of those sessions maybe you get it once in a season. But it's definitely not a good feeling.

“Everything feels okay, the balance is not way off - we can always improve a little bit like every qualifying.

“If I rely on the feeling at the end of the lap, I'm like, ‘OK, this is quite a good lap’. And then you look at the [leader] board and you are a second off.

“So, when this happens, normally we look more at tyres and the way you bring the tyres to temperature. I've tried many different things today and it didn't work.”

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, Carlos Sainz, Scuderia Ferrari

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, Carlos Sainz, Scuderia Ferrari

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Leclerc added that, while he was lacking answers for now, Ferrari should be able to bank on improved race pace.

He continued: “Any of the things I've tried [didn’t work]. So, for now, I don't have the answer.

“However, the positive thing, if we have to find one, is that our race pace looks a bit stronger.

“But on a track like this, qualifying position is extremely important. Today, we didn't do a good job.”

Leclerc had run out of sequence in Q3, setting his final flying lap comparatively early in the session to leave himself at the mercy of track evolution.

However, even compared to his rivals’ banker laps, he was only seventh fastest before getting bumped one place.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Asked whether a more conventional plan would have helped, Leclerc replied: “Not many people improved... I really don't think so.

“From Q1 to Q3, it hasn't been a strong session. Already the first lap in Q1 I was like, ‘The feeling is quite OK’.

“So, normally when it is the case, the time comes with it. Today, it has been completely the opposite. So, we've got to look into it.”

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