Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc is hoping that the upgrades his team have brought to the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend will edge them ahead of Red Bull, but maintains that the battle will be as close as ever.
Leclerc and Max Verstappen have, between them, won all of the first five races of the year, and the Scuderia certainly looked like they had the quicker car in the early going.
However, the reigning champion has bounced back in the last two races in Imola and Miami following reliability troubles in Bahrain and Australia, and the long straights in Miami played to the strengths of their outstanding power and chassis which is adept in slow corners.
However, that improvement came off the back of upgrades they brought to Bologna, and this weekend will be the first time Ferrari have brought anything major to their challenger.
The Monegasque hopes that the Scuderia have regained the pace advantage during the races with their changes.
“Hopefully it will be good ones and enough to be in front of Red Bull again,” he said.
“It’s been close since the beginning of the season and every time they’ve brought upgrades in the first part they’ve been closer and closer.
“Now I think they are a bit in front definitely in terms of race pace, so I hope it will enough for us to jump back in front.”
Asked where his team’s deficit is at the moment, the 24-year-old affirmed that they are lacking “a little bit of everything” compared to Red Bull.
“Obviously, straight-line speed, I think also slow speed corners. They seemed to be very strong in Miami in the slow speed corners, so a little bit of both of these areas,” he added.
Leclerc and team-mate Carlos Sainz set 439 laps between them in Barcelona in pre-season as the Monegasque set the fifth overall fastest lap time, but their impressive showing, according to the championship leader, is not an awful lot to go on given the development since then.
“To be honest I don’t know how much it means that we had a good winter testing here because it was a long time ago,” he explained.
“Already from that moment to now, all the teams have done quite a bis step forward and I’m pretty sure that we will see all the steps forward from this weekend onwards because of the upgrades.
“I think it will be all down to how much we will improve the car with what we put on the car this weekend and how much Red Bull will improve the car if they have anything new on the car this weekend.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a massive difference to what we’ve seen since the beginning of the season.
“It’s been very close, and I hope it will remain the same but hopefully we will just have the edge for here.”
In recent weeks, Leclerc has had the pleasure of driving Niki Lauda’s 1974 Ferrari in Monaco, as well as Gilles Villeneuve’s 1979 car in Fiorano.
His running in the Principality was cut short when a brake disc exploded, and he was on extremely aged rubber at Ferrari’s base when he took the wheel of the 312T, so he had mixed experiences.
“Niki’s one was amazing until the failure where it was a bit less amazing there,” he joked.
“To be honest the one of Gilles that I drove, I had the museum tyres so I couldn’t push at all.
“They were very, very old tyres and it was difficult to go over 100kph so I had a lot more fun in Niki’s car.”
Leclerc leads Verstappen by 19 points heading into the sixth round of the season in Barcelona this weekend.