Charles Leclerc says he has been surprised by Sauber’s strong end to the 2018 Formula 1 season, after it halted development on its current car mid-way through the year.

Sauber has made impressive progress throughout the campaign and currently occupies eighth-place in the constructors’ championship, trailing Force India by just six points heading into the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The feat is made all the more impressive given the Swiss squad stopped development on its 2018 car following July’s German Grand Prix, in order to switch focus onto next season.

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“I don’t think we expected to have such a good end of the season [after] expecting the end of the development programme for this year’s car so early on,” Leclerc said.

“It’s definitely looking good for them for next year, because they’ve had quite a bit of time to develop the car.

“The baseline of the car this year was good. I think just in the first three races, we probably didn’t use the full potential.

“Once we understood how to balance this car, we really did a huge step up. Then we made some improvements during the season also that made it even better. But the car is very impressive compared to last year. We can see it in the results.

“Even now that we have stopped the updates on the car since quite a bit now, we are still keeping the same performance as other teams that are still trying to push a little bit. It’s definitely a strong car.”

Sauber turned around a difficult start to the season to become regular challengers for the points, scoring five times in the last six races alone with at least one car.

Asked if understanding the balance issue played a more important role than upgrades, Leclerc, who will join Ferrari in 2019 after an impressive rookie campaign, replied: “I think so.

“Definitely the upgrades were still improving the car but the biggest jump we’ve made was in Baku when we did a step up with the balance.

“After that, it was small steps which were always going in the right direction, and as I’ve said in the past, it’s not always a given in Formula 1, it’s definitely not easy to always bring something that goes in the right direction, but that it was they did.”

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