Leclerc: “F1 title is not out of reach - but no miracles in Australia”

Charles Leclerc insists he could still win the F1 championship this year despite Ferrari’s poor start.

Leclerc failed to finish the season-opener in Bahrain then came P7 in Saudi Arabia, while Red Bull won both of 2023’s races through each of their drivers.

Ferrari have also experienced mishaps which have become the norm in recent years - Leclerc needed a new energy store before the first race, so was hit with a grid penalty in the second.

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Ahead of the F1 Australian Grand Prix, the 2022 runner-up in the F1 standings told Sky that this year’s championship is still possible: “Of course it is, it’s still early in the season. 

“We cannot hide and say that everything is fine, and that from this weekend onwards we’ll be fighting for wins again.

“We need to be realistic. The way it is now, we’re far away from the performance we want.

“That doesn’t mean we need to demotivate ourselves.

“The season is long, we have upgrades coming in the next few races, hopefully this will help us to close the gap to Red Bull who are in another league. Aston Martin are also really strong in races.

“We need to work, we know this.

“But we don’t think the title is out of reach.”

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Leclerc is returning to the scene in Melbourne where he claimed victory last season by more than 20s.

The Ferrari driver won two of the opening three races in 2022, emerging as a viable threat to Max Verstappen until his team’s reliability issues hampered him.

“Good memories, but we’re not coming into this race in the same situation,” he sighed about last year’s joy. 

“Clearly, our performance is not as good as last year.

“We are fully motivated to get back to the front.

“There won’t be any miracles this weekend.

“Then we’ve got a three-week break where we’ll try to bring upgrades.”

Leclerc has been forced to shoot down reports that he demanded crisis talks with Ferrari president John Elkann at Maranello this season.

He has also denied plans that he will move to Mercedes.

Ferrari are also experiencing an upheaval behind-the-scenes at Maranello.

New team principal Fred Vasseur said about their slow start: “The most important thing in this kind of situation is to know where we are going well and what we are doing wrong. But we cannot bulls*** ourselves.  

“We have to change. We have to understand where we are wrong, and we have to push. It’s not [good enough] to speak, we will not be faster like this.”

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Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz added: “We know this track isn’t too different from Jeddah. Nothing says we should out-pace the Red Bulls.

“I prefer to keep expectations low. We were eight tenths off, in the race. To change that just because of a different circuit? Difficult.”

Sainz said about the SF-23: “It’s a bit inconsistent, unpredictable. Let’s say it’s not the easiest to set it up. But we know why. 

“We know the numbers, the data, we’ve analysed it, we know where the weaknesses are.

“This gives us an idea of how to develop, the direction to go. This will be medium-term.

“The car is doing what the data suggests. This makes me optimistic. Ferrari has the capacity to develop, the manpower to change quickly.”

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