Leclerc thought Japan F1 podium was on after mistaking Perez for Verstappen

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc revealed that he thought he was on for a podium in Formula 1's Japanese Grand Prix after mistaking Sergio Perez's slowing Red Bull for leader Max Verstappen.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Leclerc finished fourth in Suzuka after being unable to match the race pace displayed by both McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, who locked out the podium places behind Verstappen.

But after the race, Leclerc revealed that he actually thought he was set to finish third after seeing one of the Red Bulls pull over under the virtual safety car.

Leclerc believed it was Verstappen who slowing down, instead of the Dutchman's team-mate Perez who endured a shocker of an afternoon.

In a wounded car, Perez slowed down under a virtual safety car, a move which cost Norris almost 10 seconds as he wasn't sure if he was allowed to pass the Mexican.

Then Leclerc arrived at the scene and was equally confused, but rather about which of the Red Bull he was passing.

"I saw [Max] stop at the [virtual] safety car, I don't know what happened then, and I thought he wasn't in the race anymore," Leclerc said.

"He was basically stopped on the left and we all overtook him."

"So, I thought I was doing a podium until the last lap, when I actually looked at the board and I was P4!"

Leclerc then had to be told by reporters that it was actually Perez who had stopped after sustaining damage following his clash with Haas' Kevin Magnussen.

"Oh right, maybe that was Checo! Because I thought Max was out of the race at that moment, it was just confusing for me."

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Otherwise, there were no further surprises for Leclerc, feeling he had maximised his result behind the superior McLarens, who enjoyed much better tyre management on Suzuka's hot and demanding circuit.

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"Yeah, they were super strong, so there were no surprises. It was the maximum we could do," Leclerc explained.

"The pace wasn't as strong as the McLarens and they also had very low tyre degradation.

"But a weekend like this is good in a way, because it confirms exactly what we understood in the last few races.

"Sector one [the twisty Esses] is definitely one of our main weaknesses compared to McLaren. That's where most of the time is lost and we'll be working on that for the rest of the season.

"In the last four races we learned a lot about our car, but there's still characteristics we cannot change until the end of the season.

"I hope we can come back to being the second-strongest team in Qatar."

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