Charles Leclerc explained how he gained a whopping eight-tenths of a second from Q2 to Q3 at the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix, to secure pole position in a Ferrari front-row lockout and deny Max Verstappen.
Ferrari had been out of the running in free practice and even the early qualifying sessions, but found pace when it really mattered by going first and second on their opening runs, led by Carlos Sainz.
The top three were separated by less than a tenth of a second in a madcap qualifying but it was Leclerc who managed the decisive improvement to cap off an astounding afternoon in Mexico City, and he was asked about that gain after the session.
“Just at the end of the lap, in Q2 it was a bit messy with the traffic exiting the pit lane,” Leclerc told the media. “The warm-up is super important and it’s very difficult to put the tyres in the right window here so everything makes a difference.
“It was very bad in the out-lap then I had a bit of traffic also in my lap and all of that made a huge difference.
“But it made a much bigger difference than what I thought because even though I knew there was a bit more time coming, I did not expect to gain eight-tenths.”
Leclerc had finished a distant fourth and sixth in Q1 and Q2 while Sainz barely scraped through to the final session as Ferrari struggled to keep their tyres in the operating window for the whole lap.
Daniel Ricciardo, who eventually qualified a remarkable fourth, was the only driver to show consistency from free practice to all three qualifying sessions as Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren all suffered a rollercoaster day.
Lewis Hamilton had topped Q2 but George Russell revealed the team had made a surprise change to their tyre setup before the finale, and they couldn’t challenge Ferrari for pole.
Leclerc: Pole position more surprising than Austin
It’s the second time in two weeks that Leclerc has taken pole position, after his result in qualifying for the 2023 United States GP also surprised Ferrari.
Unfortunately, he’s picked two tough circuits to do it – the Circuit of the Americas almost favours second-place on the inside and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez provides the longest run to turn one on the Formula 1 calendar.
However, Verstappen and both Mercedes could be hit with grid drops for Q1 offences, so the Ferraris would have to worry and Ricciardo and Sergio Perez.
“It’s a really big surprise,” Leclerc added after his fourth pole of 2023. “But we keep saying that every time we get a pole position so people will stop believing in what we say, but I did not expect it this time until really late in the session.
“I think in most of the other sessions from Q1, we’re on it and we saw that there was a potential for pole position.
“Until Q3 [here] we had no idea that it was inside the car and yet for some reason I managed to put more or less everything together apart from the last sector and the lap time came straight away.
“So that was a good surprise. But I think it still shows us that our car is still a bit picky and we need to work in that direction for it to make it better in all conditions.”