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Charles Leclerc

Leclerc hopes for a ‘good surprise’ and expects a ‘close fight’ with rivals in Japan

Charles Leclerc is hopeful for a close race to entertain Japanese fans this weekend as Ferrari find consistency with SF-23

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Charles Leclerc has revealed that Ferrari now has an understanding of their 2023 car. However, the team is unsure whether they will be ahead of Mercedes or McLaren as the margins between the three teams are too tight to call.

Charles Leclerc
Charles Leclerc driving the (16) Ferrari SF-23 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 22, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)
A race to forget for Leclerc

Last time out on the weaving streets of Singapore, Charles Leclerc had to make sacrifices for his teammate Carlos Sainz. As a result, Sainz was able to defend against a McLaren and the two Silver Arrows of Mercedes to claim his second win in Formula 1. Meanwhile, Leclerc was held up in the pit lane by traffic, which had caused his car to overheat and him having to crawl home to finish fourth.

The Monegasque driver has admitted that it is not easy to predict how any car on the grid will perform at a particular circuit. However, he has confirmed that he expects the race between McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes to be close. But Leclerc will try his hardest to be ahead of them come Qualifying, much like in FP2.

Speaking at the Japanese Grand Prix press conference, Leclerc said:

“It’s very difficult to predict any team’s performance this year because it’s just varying so much from track to track. We did not expect Red Bull to struggle that much in Singapore. We did not expect us to be that quick in Singapore.

“I hope the surprise will be a good surprise for us too this weekend. However, I think we expect Red Bull to be obviously in front and then to be a close fight with McLaren, Mercedes.

“It’s been the case for the whole year and every hundredth makes a difference. So it’s very difficult to predict for now whether we’ll be in front or behind, but we’ll do our best to be the best of the rest.”

Ferrari’s Suzuka curse

A Ferrari-powered car has not won around Suzuka since 2004 when Michael Schumacher won from pole after beating his brother Ralf Schumacher in Qualifying. However, it looks as if Ferrari’s drought in Japan is set to continue. Leclerc believes although they have developed an understanding of the SF-23 since Zandvoort, he doesn’t think it will be enough to help them consistently fight for wins. But he has insisted that Ferrari will need to be on top of their game to take the fight to their rivals.

“One thing that we did find for sure, since Zandvoort, is at least we have a good understanding of our car now. I think in Zandvoort, we did quite a lot of tests, and it’s been super useful for the whole team in the two or three weekends after that in order to understand a bit more of our package, and that is crucial for the future developments especially,” he added.

“Then for the short term, I don’t think that will help us to basically fight for wins all the time. But at least we’ll be able to maximise a bit more our package, which shall be good as I was saying before, it’s only a few hundredths with the Mercedes and McLaren so we need to be on top of our game every weekend.”

Leclerc looking forward to ‘extra special race’

Two hundred thousand people attended the Japanese Grand Prix in 2022, the highest attendance at Suzuka since 2012, which saw 8,000 more attend. However, the Fans will be out in force with their flags and unique hats supporting their favourite driver.

When questioned if there was a Charles Leclerc fan club amongst the expected sea of supporters, Leclerc said: “I don’t know? There might be one”, but he pointed out that Japan was a special Grand Prix to attend due to the creativity and passion of the fans.

“I’m lucky enough to be a Ferrari driver, so wherever we go in the world, we have a lot of support. But to come here in Japan is always extra special. The fans are so creative, so passionate. And they always come up with some crazy things on track. So, it’s always interesting and nice to be here,” he added.

Leclerc and Ferrari will be able to see for the first time whether they can take on Mercedes and McLaren at full power in Qualifying on Saturday, 23rd September, at 3 pm local time (7 am BST).

Headline image: GettyImages

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