Charles Leclerc has admitted he thought a maiden pole position shootout entry for Alfa Romeo Sauber looked near-impossible after his Friday practice was “a disaster” at Paul Ricard.

The Ferrari protégé starred in qualifying at the French Grand Prix by becoming the first Sauber driver to break into Q3 of qualifying since Marcus Ericsson achieved the feat at the 2015 Italian Grand Prix.

Leclerc, who enjoyed the added bonus of qualifying ahead of both Haas cars after Romain Grosjean crashed and Kevin Magnussen saw his best lap ruined by a hairy moment with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, says to secure his best Formula 1 qualifying performance with eighth place came has a huge boost after a troubled Friday practice.

“It’s already incredible to be in Q3 on a normal basis, but to be in Q3 after the Friday we had yesterday is even more incredible. Yesterday was a disaster,” Leclerc said. “After yesterday we weren’t even expecting to get into Q2 today.

“The car was very difficult to drive but the team has done an incredible job. I stayed quite late here with the engineers trying to figure out what the issues were and what we wanted to have on the car today to do a jump in performance and they achieved what I asked perfectly.

“I think that’s the reason why we managed to perform so well today, the recovery from Friday to Saturday is quite crazy. I’m really happy about being in Q3, especially with the situation like we’ve had.”

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Leclerc’s qualifying performance has also ramped up speculation linking the 20-year-old to a move to Ferrari for 2019, potentially replacing Kimi Raikkonen, but the F1 rookie has played down the rumours in order to focus on his current campaign to demonstrate his abilities.

“I’m really focusing on this year as it’s very important for me to not distract myself with what could possible happen next year,” he said. “I keep repeating myself but I really think so. That was my main target last year in Formula 2 when there were rumours about me coming into Formula 1.

“I really wanted to stay focused on Formula 2 until the very last moment and that’s what I want to do this year.

“It’s really an honour for me to see the name Ferrari and Leclerc in the same sentence because it’s a dream since I was a child like any driver I guess. But we’ll see, for now I’m just trying to focus on this year.”

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