Japanese GP: Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur denies Carlos Sainz outperforming Charles Leclerc is a problem | F1 News

Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur insists he is “not worried” by Charles Leclerc being outperformed by departing team-mate Carlos Sainz during the early stages of the 2024 Formula 1 season.

After convincing Lewis Hamilton during the off-season to sign a deal to join Ferrari next year, Vasseur opted to keep Leclerc and allow Sainz to leave.

Sainz finished in third ahead of Leclerc at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, before returning from an appendectomy that forced him out of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to lead his team-mate in a Ferrari one-two at the Australian Grand Prix.

Then in Japanese Grand Prix qualifying, Sainz qualified fourth as tight margins meant a 0.1s gap between the pair left Leclerc starting Sunday’s race four places behind in eighth.

“I’m not at all [worried],” Frederic Vasseur told Sky Sports F1.

“Charles was P2 [in Australia] last week. Today he’s one tenth off Carlos, he knows perfectly where he needs something.

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Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz reflects on all the big talking points from qualifying in Japan.

Leclerc’s qualifying hopes at Suzuka were hampered by his failure to nail his first lap in Q1, which forced him to use an extra set of new tyres in the opening part of the session.

When it came to the pole-position shootout, Leclerc only had one new set remaining compared to two for Sainz – and the other front-runners – leaving him just one run, which he opted to do in between his rival’s two attempts.

“For now, [Leclerc’s issue] was more lap one, Q1 than something else,” Vasseur added. “The season is long and I’m not worried at all about the situation.”

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Sky F1’s Damon Hill asks Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur whether Carlos Sainz’s recent impressive performances are causing a headache for the team, with the Spaniard set to leave at the end of this season.

Leclerc: A qualifying you get once a season

Leclerc, who signed an undisclosed multi-year contract with Ferrari earlier this year, has trailed Sainz throughout the Suzuka weekend.

Far from pointing out a clear mistake or problem in qualifying, Leclerc said he had a good feeling with the car despite another failure to beat his team-mate.

“It’s one of those sessions which you get once in a season but it’s definitely not a good feeling. Everything feels OK. The balance is not well off,” he told Sky Sports F1.

“We can always improve a little bit but if I rely on the feeling at the end of the lap you are like ‘OK, this is a good lap’. Then you look at the board and you are a second off.

“When this happens, normally we look at tyres and the way you bring them up to temperature. I tried many different things today and none of them worked.

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Qualifying highlights of the Japanese Grand Prix from the Suzuka Circuit.

“For now, I don’t have the answers but the positive thing, if we have to find one, is our race pace looks a bit stronger. But on a track like this, qualifying position is extremely important and today we didn’t do a good job.”

Suzuka is a difficult track to overtake on with just one DRS zone and high-speed corners which make it hard to follow.

However, Ferrari’s pace was strong in final practice so Leclerc is hoping for a mini-charge on Sunday.

“The race pace looks strong. I just hope we have the opportunity to overtake. On a track like this, it will be difficult to overtake. I will do my best and we will see,” he added.

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After winning the Australian Grand Prix the question arises of whether Ferrari have made a mistake in deciding to release Carlos Sainz at the end of the 2024 Formula 1 season.

Hill: Leclerc has something to think about

Leclerc hasn’t won a race since the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix and has taken eight pole positions since that event.

One-lap pace has traditionally been a strength of the Monegasque driver but he’s not shown that this year after not putting together a completely satisfying qualifying in the opening four events.

Sainz’s victory at the Australian Grand Prix on his return from appendix surgery would have been a blow for Leclerc in the Ferrari team-mate battle and Sky Sports F1’s Damon Hill thinks Leclerc has to look at himself.

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Carlos Sainz explains he has no further news on his future but wants a plan in place sooner rather than later.

“I think he’s made of very tough stuff, is Carlos, and his dad (former rally champion Carlos Sainz Snr) is as well. I think he comes from that kind of family that get on with it. His dad is hard as nails. These guys are really intense competitors,” said the 1996 F1 world champion.

“He uses his head as well, which I like, and applies himself. I’m not saying Charles doesn’t but Charles definitely has something to think about.

“If he was the front-running Ferrari driver, Ferrari would have a slightly different look to their qualifying position.”

Sainz expecting close fight for podium

If Ferrari’s race pace in practice is anything to go by, Sainz could be Red Bull’s closest challenger if he can get ahead of third-placed Lando Norris at the start.

Sainz is enjoying a great run of form and was happy with his qualifying performance as he looks to make it three podiums from three starts in 2024.

“We have been better on the race pace this weekend but I don’t know if it will be good or bad. I hope we can fight them [McLaren] in the race because in qualy it was impossible,” said Sainz.

“In the race it would be nice to have a fight for the podium between Lando, me, Fernando [Alonso], Mercedes behind. It should be an interesting battle for the podium, I think the Red Bulls are unfortunately in a different league around here.”

Sky Sports F1’s live Japanese GP schedule

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Look back on some of the most exciting title deciders to take place at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Sunday April 7
5am: Grand Prix Sunday Japanese GP build-up*
8am: Chequered Flag: Japanese GP reaction*
9am: Ted’s Notebook*
9.30am: Japanese Grand Prix highlights*
10.30am: Japanese Grand Prix replay

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

Formula 1’s biggest ever season continues with the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, live on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event with lights out at 6am. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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