Charles Leclerc believes he could’ve beaten Max Verstappen to pole position for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix if he’d been allowed a second run in qualifying.
Leclerc was second and just one tenth behind Verstappen with a minute to go in qualifying, but the Ferrari driver climbed out of the car at that stage while both Red Bulls went for a final lap that put Verstappen further ahead and allowed Sergio Perez to leapfrog Leclerc.
Ferrari opted to save a set of tyres for raceday instead, and left the Tifosi wondering what if rather than celebrating a season-opening pole as in 2022.
“I mean, I hate saying yes,” Leclerc told the media when asked if he could’ve beaten Verstappen. “It’s difficult to say, but for sure, seeing the margin on the first set I knew there was a bit of time to find so it will have been close.
“Also Aston Martin seems to be really, really quick in the race which is why we made that choice in Q3 I think, which I’m sure is the right choice. But let’s see tomorrow.”
Ferrari weren’t sandbagging
Ferrari entered the grand prix weekend with the most question marks of any of the top teams.
They were notably slower than at least Red Bull and Mercedes in the fastest lap charts during testing but were the only team to end day three with similar daytime and evening laptimes, indicating they were holding something back.
Likewise, they didn’t set the world alight in free practice but topped the first two qualifying sessions and were Red Bull‘s closest challengers in Q3.
“The Ferrari has definitely picked up,” Perez said. “Throughout I think they were sandbagging a bit through the first days of testing and during the weekend.
“They’re definitely there, they’re very strong. So I will expect them to be in the fight for tomorrow’s race.”
Meanwhile, Verstappen joked that Ferrari mechanics had left a real sandbag in the car and taken it out when Leclerc wasn’t looking.
However, the 2022 runner-up insisted their qualifying pace was nothing more than a pleasant surprise.
“I’m not aware of it,” Leclerc said. “We found a lot of performance in qualifying, we were in the fight, which is something that I probably did not expect. So it’s a good surprise.
“To tell you where we found the performance, I’m not really sure. We need to look into that because as much as we need to understand the bad days I think we also need to understand the good days.
“That’s how we will improve but good that it’s like that but we also need to be realistic.”