The Monegasque driver doesn’t dare to make predictions about the Qatar Grand Prix weekend: “How will we perform? I won’t say anymore since every time the opposite happens!” Charles hopes that the Scuderia can be a surprise at Lusail: “It will be a challenging weekend because we’ll have to deal with extremely hot temperatures, which means having to spend some time defining the cooling limit. However, I can confirm that we have worked hard to prepare for this weekend.”
“How will we perform? I won’t say anymore since every time the opposite happens!” Charles Leclerc arrived in Doha with fewer doubts than on the eve of Suzuka, but he doesn’t want to lean one way or another. The picture he paints is clear, with Charles mentioning McLaren more often than Mercedes regarding direct competitors they’ll have to contend with, but he also emphasizes the many question marks that all teams will need to address in just sixty minutes of FP1.
“It will be a very challenging weekend because we’ll have to deal with extremely hot temperatures, which means having to spend some time defining the cooling limit. We’ll have only one free practice session available, and the track has been completely resurfaced, so there are many aspects to sort out in a single practice session. In this scenario, it can go incredibly well, but it can also go wrong, but I can confirm that we have worked hard to prepare for this weekend.”
Your weekend in Japan seemed like a turning point. Were there any particular reasons?
“The situation has been the same since the start of the season. There are tracks where we perform a bit better and others where we struggle more. I don’t think there was a turning point. The problems, which we know well, are still there, and we will need an entirely new car to get rid of them. That’s the goal for next season.”
In terms of driving, do you think you’ve made progress in adapting better to the car?
“Yes, I’m working on that a lot because at the moment, our car can’t have the oversteering behavior I’d like. Theoretically, we can set up the car in that direction, but if we do that, it becomes inconsistent in its reactions, so we have to drive it with understeer, and that makes it challenging to use my driving style to get the most out of it.”
“I tried to improve by understanding how to adapt and what to do differently. This approach worked quite well in Japan, but overall, I don’t think it will make a big difference for the rest of the season.”
Do you think the very high temperature will make this race physically more challenging than Singapore?
“I don’t know, but I believe we’ll be in that kind of scenario. From what I’ve heard, the temperature should be even higher than in Singapore, so I assume it will be a tough race. In Marina Bay, there’s an additional difficulty because there are many buildings around the track that eliminate the wind. Even if you open the visor, not much air enters. Here it should be a bit better, at least in this aspect.”
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Does it encourage you that in the last two races, you managed to finish ahead of Mercedes, or is your focus always on closing the gap to Red Bull?
“You always have to look at yourself. We learned a lot at Zandvoort, and it was an important step. However, Red Bull is still far ahead, and even McLaren is very competitive when they find the right conditions. But all in all, we are happier with the steps forward rather than depressed about the gap that separates us from the fight for victory. This is because I believe we have an idea of what we can do in the future, and we hope to close the gap in the fight for victory.”
How do you see this track in terms of adapting to the SF-23?
“You can’t predict it (Charles smiles) because every time I say something, the opposite happens in the end! I expect McLaren to be very strong again; at Suzuka, they were very competitive on medium-high-speed corners, confirming the progress they made with the new update, so I think they will be strong on this track too. We hope to be a surprise; all the sprint weekends this year have been quite positive for us.”
If Max were to win the championship at the end of the sprint race, do you think it would be an anomaly for Formula 1? Does it make sense to use this format in the final stages of the season?
“Perhaps we could have done something different, but it’s also very difficult to predict when the championship will be decided. At the beginning of the year, I don’t think anyone would have bet on it being decided so early, so yes, we can see that if we have sprint weekends in the final stage of the season, these things can happen.”
After the summer break, you’ve been more consistent in terms of performance. To what do you attribute that?
“It’s the work done at Zandvoort, confirmed at Monza, a very different track from the previous one. We can extract the maximum from the car more consistently, while at the beginning, we had many ups and downs depending on the track. In this regard, we have improved a lot.”
How has the team atmosphere changed under Fred’s leadership?
“Emotionally, Fred is super… level, and I think it’s a genuinely positive trait for someone in his position because he conveys this calm to the whole team. One of the things I love most about Ferrari is people’s emotions, their passion, but now with Fred, there’s more balance, it’s essential to have a clear vision when things go wrong and even when things improve. In a way, we already had this philosophy, but Fred has strengthened it even further, and I think it’s a very positive aspect.”