Despite Ferrari’s newfound momentum off the back of three consecutive Formula 1 race wins, Charles Leclerc feels the team is facing familiar challenges to extract the maximum performance from his SF90 in Russia.

After topping FP1 at the Sochi Autodrom, Leclerc was shuffled back to second place at the end of FP2 behind timesheet-topper Max Verstappen in the Red Bull by 0.335s over the qualifying simulation runs.

The Monegasque expects the challenge to continue from both Red Bull and Mercedes in Russia and while he is confident with Ferrari’s current race pace he feels clear gains can be found from its qualifying setup but warns his team must find a suitable compromise between the two.

“It was quite a good day. I think Red Bull are quite strong, but we focused on ourselves. There is still quite a lot of lap time to be gained on our side,” Leclerc said. “The balance was not exactly how I wanted it to be, especially in the qualifying runs, but the race pace looked very strong, so that’s good.

“It’s mostly the balance throughout the qualifying lap. It’s a track where the rears are struggling a little bit in the last sector, so you need to maybe compromise it a bit in the first sector to be better in the third sector, and we are struggling to find the balance in that.”

With Mercedes concerned Ferrari has found key performance gains through high-speed corners, an area of clear weakness at the start of the season for the Scuderia, Leclerc has remained tight-lipped on the progress his team has made but feels clear momentum has been uncovered since the summer break.

“I’m happy. But we need to keep working,” he said. “Mercedes are a very strong team, and we need to keep working as hard as we possibly can, and hopefully we’ll keep our momentum.”

Ferrari has the opportunity to win four F1 races in a row for the first time since 2008 if it can clinch victory in Russia and would duly end Mercedes’ 100% winning record at the Sochi circuit.

Leclerc has claimed three straight pole positions for Ferrari since the summer break and turned two of them into wins with Sebastian Vettel taking victory in Singapore ahead of his team-mate.

Red Bull duo Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon go into the Russian Grand Prix with five-place grid penalties each for extra engine components.

 

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