Charles Leclerc may have had the potential to challenge pole winner Max Verstappen but he unexpectedly exited his F1-75 ahead of the second run. Leclerc and Ferrari claimed that this was a tactic to save a set of brand-new soft tyres to use at the start of Sunday’s race. The team hopes this will provide more grip and better tyre degradation across the opening stint, something they have struggled with. When asked how much benefit the tactic would provide, Leclerc said it would only be “a bit more grip” and wasn’t sure whether it would be a “game-changer”.
Verstappen responded by explaining that he only had one set of tyres with only an out-lap completed, and Sergio Perez agreed. During Q1, the Red Bull drivers progressed with just a single timed lap, while Verstappen and Perez emerged for a second time in Q1, which means the lightly cured rubber should still last for a long time at the start of the race. Red Bull could opt to use another compound, but the optimum race strategy is thought to be a two-stopper starting on the softs and switching to the hards, given the Bahrain track’s abrasive surface.
Leclerc was asked if Ferrari’s data had provided any tangible encouragement regarding improvement on the tyre degradation weakness that was evident compared to Red Bull last year. Leclerc acknowledged that Ferrari had improved its process of taking care of tyres throughout the race but noted that the team was still slower than Red Bull in terms of pace and tyre degradation. He concluded that Ferrari needs to “be realistic” about its chances of beating Red Bull in Bahrain.
In Friday’s FP2 session, Ferrari averaged over half a second slower than Red Bull during a race-like stint on the softs. This led Leclerc to state that Ferrari needs to “be realistic” about its chances of beating Red Bull. He also explained the team’s decision in Q3 to “be willing to lose one or two positions at the start but having new tyres to put all the chances on our side”. However, Leclerc believes the strategy “is the right choice, but let’s see tomorrow”.