Leclerc: Red Bull ‘very strong’ ahead of F1 season

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc led the morning minutes on the final day of F1 pre-season testing in Bahrain on Saturday, but said Red Bull remained a team to beat.

Monegasque completed Sakhir with a best time of 1:31.024 seconds on Pirelli C4 tires, 0.418 faster than Mercedes’ George Russell, who used the softer C5 tires.

“I feel like we have a lot of work to do,” Leclerc told reporters after passing it to teammate Carlos Sainz for the final session. “Red Bull seems very strong in these three days.”

Leclerc finished second to two-time Red Bull world champion Max Verstappen last year and the pair will resume their rivalry when the season kicks off in Bahrain next week.

The Ferrari driver said that after the extreme winter training in the Dolomites, he felt in the best shape of his life and was fully energized.

Ferrari started last year strongly: Leclerc won two of the first three races before the problem subsided due to strategic mistakes, poor reliability and driver error.

Mattia Binotto has since stepped down as director, replaced by Frenchman Fred Wasser, who is tasked with securing the team’s first championship since winning the constructors’ title in 2008.

Leclerc said the new SF-23 car is very different from last year.

“I have tried many different driving styles. It seems like I finally found my way this morning,” he said. “I expect us to be a little faster on the straights and maybe fight a little more in the corners.

“We’re still working on finding the best seat in the car in terms of setup, so I hope there’s some headroom in that that we haven’t found the best seat yet.”

Verstappen, who was fastest in both sessions on Thursday and second on Friday night, told reporters he was pleased with his car, even if it is still under development.

“It was very good,” he said. “I think the car is doing very well. We just tried a lot of things we wanted to try and it’s very interesting what we tried.

“Very positive days for me and I just enjoy driving. Overall, I think it’s definitely an improvement over last year.”

Last year Red Bull won 17 out of 22 races and Verstappen won 15 of them.


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