*** ----> Leclerc hopes for closer race | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Leclerc hopes for closer race

AFP | Shanghai                                                        

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

Charles Leclerc said yesterday that Ferrari will be closer to Red Bull at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, but he still expects his fight to be for the minor podium places. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez secured a dominant one-two in Japan two weeks ago with the Dutch triple world champion more than 10 seconds ahead of his Mexican teammate.

The Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was next, with teammate Leclerc trailing home in fourth, almost half a minute behind the winner. “I think in the race we will be (closer), yes,” Leclerc told reporters in Shanghai. “But let’s see. It’s been a very long time since we drove here.”

Formula One is back in China for the first time in five years with a packed programme including a Saturday sprint race. The Shanghai International Circuit has not been raced upon by the current generation of F1 cars and appears to have had the newly laid tarmac given a coat of paint to improve grip, raising a few eyebrows in the paddock. “I think the track was painted or there’s something strange on it so we will have to see how our car behaves with that and what the main limitations are in the race,” said Monaco’s Leclerc. The pecking order was very different at the last Chinese Grand Prix, in April 2019, when the race was won easily by Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes onetwo.

This time there will be just 60 minutes of free practice on Friday morning ahead of sprint qualifying. Leclerc has been in the top four in all four races this season, but is keen to nail qualifying better -- especially important on a sprint race weekend. “I still think Red Bull will have the upper hand this weekend,” said Leclerc, who is third in the standings, 18 points behind Verstappen but only five behind Perez.

“We will just have to focus on ourselves because it can be very easy, as we have seen especially in qualifying in Suzuka, to not do a good job on the Saturday and then you don’t go from fourth to fifth, you go from fourth to eighth. “Sprint weekend with two qualifyings to extract the maximum out of the car -- it’s going to be very important.”