Charles Leclerc warns Ferrari about Red Bull ‘sandbagging’

Charles Leclerc is on pole for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

Ahead of qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc said that the team had not yet found their “sweet spot.”

Neither Charles Leclerc nor Carlos Sainz have qualified first since the French Grand Prix, although the Spaniard started on pole after Max Verstappen’s Belgian Grand Prix penalty was applied.

Their last win came through Leclerc in Austria, one week after Sainz had won in Silverstone, but the Scuderia have just four wins to Red Bull’s 11 this season.

Since the third round of the season in Australia, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have been dominating for Red Bull, who now lead the Constructors’ Standings by 135 points.

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The Austrian side have appeared to hold a qualifying advantage in both of the last two rounds in Spa and Zandvoort, and their race pace has blown the Maranello-based side out of the water.

This weekend though, things have not been quite as expected. The Monza Circuit is generally expected to favour the straight-line speed of Red Bull, but Leclerc and Sainz topped FP1 and FP2, respectively, on Friday.

The 24-year-old, however, was still uncertain of the F1-75’s true pace compared to Red Bull.

“We still haven’t found the sweet spot in terms of balance, but the feeling in the car was good,” explained Leclerc.

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“We tried many different things throughout the day and know which direction we want to go in.

“I don’t know how much Red Bull was sandbagging, so let’s wait and see tomorrow when they put everything together. But today the feeling was really good, so I hope that we can keep that feeling.”

Verstappen went fastest on Saturday morning, making for an intriguing prospect heading into qualifying.

Sainz, Perez and Verstappen all went into Saturday afternoon with engine penalties, so Leclerc was almost guaranteed pole, but he went quicker than Verstappen by just over a tenth of a second without the need of a slipstream from his team-mate.

“It’s amazing,” said the five-time race winner after qualifying.

“It wasn’t an easy qualifying session, I knew that there was quite a bit of potential in the car, but didn’t put everything together.

“I knew that in this last lap in Q3, I had to put everything together, and I managed to do it so very happy with the lap, very happy with the performance.

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“It’s been a great weekend until now, the feeling with the car is amazing, and I really hope that we can do just like in 2019 [win the race] tomorrow.”

Verstappen will start the race seven due to his penalties, with Perez behind in 13th, and Sainz in 18th.

Sunday afternoon will be another test of Ferrari’s race pace as they try to somehow claw their way back into the championship.