Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc slipstream helped but wasn’t crucial for French GP pole

LE CASTELLET, France — Charles Leclerc said the slipstream he picked up from his teammate in qualifying for the French Grand Prix was helpful but not the key factor in him taking pole position ahead of Max Verstappen on Saturday.

Leclerc beat his title rival by 0.304s to pole at Paul Ricard on a lap where he benefited from a tow from teammate Carlos Sainz.

Slipstreaming behind another car helps reduce drag and increase top speed, and Ferrari put Sainz out ahead of Leclerc so he could offer his teammate a straight-line speed advantage on the Mistral straight, where the Ferrari compared the performance had been lacking to Red Bull during training.

Sainz was able to sacrifice his own qualifying to help Leclerc after being penalized for a full engine change on Saturday morning, meaning he would start on the last row regardless of his performance.

Leclerc was grateful for the help but said it didn’t give him his full advantage over Verstappen.

“I think the benefit of the tow was about 0.2 seconds compared to Q2,” said Leclerc. “So it’s significant and it would have been a lot tighter with Max without the tow. So it was still a nice help.”

The Ferrari drivers tried the slipstream twice in Q3 and Leclerc said it only offered the full benefit on the second attempt.

“It’s quite difficult to get it just right. On the first lap we were a little too close in turns 8 and 9 so I lost a bit there and just didn’t drive optimally. In the second lap we adjusted that and then it was better and that was the lap. So we did a good job communicatively and also Carlos who helped me was great.”

However, Leclerc is suspicious of Red Bull’s race performance and doesn’t expect an easy run to victory on Sunday.

“I think it will be difficult because the Red Bull guys were very, very fast in the race simulations yesterday [in practice]’ Leclerc added. “We worked a bit on the car for the race [since Friday]so hopefully things will go better for us tomorrow.

“Tyre management was good for us in Austria and we had a bit more problems yesterday, but we think we’ve made a significant step forward since tomorrow for yesterday.” Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc slipstream helped but wasn’t crucial for French GP pole

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