It may have been just the sixth pole position of Charles Leclerc’s fledgling Formula 1 career, but his performance on Saturday only furthered his case for being the best qualifier on the grid right now.

Crazy to think, given he is going up against Lewis Hamilton – statistically the best qualifier in F1 history – in a Mercedes, and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in the very same car. But Leclerc has taken everything in his stride, and has emerged as the Saturday specialist since the summer break.

As with so much of the good Leclerc has done through his first year with Ferrari in 2019, much of his qualifying success can be attributed to learning from mistakes. His early-season qualifying form was more patchy as he struggled to build his pace through all three stages, tending to peak too early. This was most clear in Baku, when he binned the car in Q2 while in contention for pole position, ending Ferrari’s win hopes for the weekend.

Since the French Grand Prix in June – the race where the change in approach started – Leclerc has not been outqualified by Vettel, a streak covering nine races. Only George Russell can boast a longer run of qualifying wins over his teammate. Leclerc is also the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2001 to claim four consecutive pole positions.

Sochi was another case of Leclerc being a cut above the rest of the field – and particularly his teammate. Ferrari enjoyed a strong Friday, with Leclerc seeming more confident about his chances than Vettel. Despite finishing a narrow second in FP2 behind Max Verstappen, Leclerc was confident there was more time to find, and was particularly pleased with his long-run pace.

Leclerc still had to get the job done on Saturday, and once again applied the lessons he had learned earlier in the year, building his pace through all three sessions. He went from a 1m33.6s in Q1 to finish over two seconds quicker in Q3. By comparison, Vettel only gained a second across all three stages (although did have to push harder in Q1 to ensure he advanced after the red flag).

And there was still more time to be found come the end of Q3. Leclerc improved by 0.126 seconds on his final lap, widening the gap to the rest of the field to more than four-tenths of a second at the chequered flag, but was quick to complain that he struggled over team radio. Only when he was informed that pole was his regardless did his tune change.

His glass forever half-empty, Leclerc said after the session that it was not until his first lap in Q3 that he felt properly comfortable (despite being the quickest man in Q2). “O don’t think I had any clean laps before the one in Q3,” Leclerc said. “I think the first lap in Q3 felt very good, the second lap very good until Turn 16, where I lost the rear and lost a little bit of lap time.

“But overall the car was just coming together and the balance was getting better. I was adjusting the aero balance a bit, and I felt more and more confident.”

One would expect such confidence to be flowing given his recent record in qualifying – but Leclerc was under no illusions, knowing all good things have to come to an end.

“Of course I feel confident going in qualifying, but at one point it’s going to end, whether it’s now or later I don’t know,” Leclerc said. “The only thing I’m trying to do is to focus on myself, do exactly the same procedure as I had since the last four races.

“I definitely don’t go to the car thinking it will be easy and come together alone. I just try to keep working as I did in the last races and hopefully the lap time comes.”

Vettel may have struck back against Leclerc by taking victory in Singapore, but qualifying in Sochi only adds to the theory that momentum has shifted at Ferrari. To be on the back foot for a few races can be seen as a rough patch – but to trail for nine Saturdays in a row? That’s something more.

Vettel didn’t see it that way, downplaying the idea of any pattern playing out between him and Leclerc in terms of qualifying form.

“I don’t think there’s any pattern standing out saying he’s faster in the same type of corner,” Vettel said. “I think the last races were closer than it showed on result. So we will see what happens tomorrow. Usually, come race day, I’m getting more and more confident in the car and the pace has never been a problem in the race, so we’ll see what happens.”

The more concerning statistic for Vettel should not be Leclerc’s streak against him, but Hamilton’s. Taking Leclerc out of the equation, Vettel still wouldn’t have scored pole at any of the last three races, having been beaten by Hamilton each time around.

Hamilton was upbeat over team radio upon learning he was P2 on the grid, talking in the same tone he would use to discuss a race win: grateful; content. He knows the challenge he is going up against, so to split the Ferraris went down as a job well done.

“Already by Turn 1 we were three-tenths down, so it was very, very hard to catch up,” Hamilton said. “I was really happy with the lap, it all came together. That last one was really the best of the weekend, as it should be, no mistakes or anything like that, so I really felt I got everything and a bit more than the car. We split the Ferraris once again, which is not an easy task.

“In terms of putting the perfect lap together, I feel I am getting close to that - then you finish the lap and it’s a long way off pole. It feels like quite an achievement to get in between the two Ferraris, who have got a bit of a delta to us at the moment.

Leclerc may have emerged as F1’s qualifying king in recent weeks, but Vettel needs to up his game on Saturdays and start getting closer to his teammate. Being outqualified by Hamilton accidentally worked in his favour in Singapore, and with such a straight line advantage in Sochi, it may not be the worst-case scenario in Sochi.

But there is still a real need for him to improve his qualifying form, if only to help end the chatter of a momentum shift at Ferrari.