For most of Saturday’s sprint race at Imola it looked as if reigning championship leader Charles Leclerc would beat Max Verstappen , who he managed to keep out of the DRS zone for several laps.
However, everything began to change on lap 15 of the planned 21, when the Dutchman began to set better times than Ferrari’s, which brought him closer until he was able to open the mobile wing.
His first lap with overtaking assistance on the finish straight allowed him to close within half a second, while Leclerc struggled with degradation on the front right tyre.
The defending champion made an overtake at the Tamburello chicane with two laps to go before the checkered flag, and headed for victory in the sprint race. Leclerc said his tires suffered from attempts to increase a lead over Verstappen early in the race, and that proved crucial.
“I had a very good start. We didn’t get neck-and-neck in the first corner and I was able to focus on my own race from that point on,” he said. “I tried to push at the beginning to get a bit of distance so that Max wasn’t in the DRS zone, because I knew he would be vulnerable if that was the case.”
“But I paid the price a little bit later in the race and I had some degradation. Then I suffered in the last two, three laps,” explained the man from Monaco.
As a result, Leclerc felt that the main lesson to be learned from the sprint race was to deal with graining and find an answer before Sunday’s grand prix. The Ferrari man added that achieving that would allow him to fight for victory, rather than relying on the powerful slipstream from the Rivazza corner and the effect of the DRS all the way to Tamburello .
Asked by Motorsport.com if he thought the result could be the other way around on Sunday, Leclerc said: “I think the pace is quite similar (between Red Bull and Ferrari).”