Leclerc bounced back from his nightmare race in France to qualify seventh in Austria but, despite a near perfect lap, he was left frustrated by an almost “scary” gap of over 0.3s to McLaren’s Lando Norris, who was fourth.
Teammate Carlos Sainz struggled with a lack of front-end grip, and had to settle for 12th on the grid.
“We’re actually very happy with my lap,” said Leclerc. “I put everything together, I did a good lap, I didn’t do any mistakes, I put all of my best corners in one lap.
“But then on the other hand, when I’m looking at the gap in between myself and Lando, it is quite… I wouldn’t go as far as scary, but it’s quite a bit. So we need to work hard for tomorrow.
“I think our race pace was better than our qualy pace this weekend, which is quite unusual. But sometimes we didn’t carry away that pace we had on Friday to the race on Sunday.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“So we really need to make sure we work well tonight try to prepare in the best way possible for tomorrow, and have a good race from there.”
Leclerc didn’t have the front end issues experienced by his teammate, and stressed that he weakness was elsewhere.
“This weekend I struggled a little bit less with the front,” he said. “That was my problem in Paul Ricard, actually, and we did some changes that helped me here.
“To be honest, we are losing quite a bit in the first sector, which is mainly the three DRS zones.
“For some reason, and we don’t completely understand why yet, because it’s mostly where we are opening the DRS, and the others seem to be a lot stronger with a DRS on.
“So it’s not in all the straights. It’s mostly in those three straights. And then overall grip, probably a little bit. But we are not that bad in the corners, actually, if you compare to the others.”
Leclerc conceded that the team had erred towards race pace, to the detriment of qualifying potential: “A tiny bit, but not as much as the gap is telling. Definitely not, but a tiny bit.”
Sainz confirmed that a front grip issue was costing him performance.
“Clearly this weekend we are not that strong over one lap compared to other weekends,” said the Spaniard.
“We are three, four tenths off the AlphaTauri and the McLaren. Even the Alpine, it looks like Charles managed to pip him [Fernando Alonso], but they have definitely looked stronger than us all weekend, these two or three teams.
“And I’ve been struggling with the front tyres in qualifying trim, to get them work. Some laps I managed to make them bite in the high speed, some laps for whatever reason it doesn’t bite, and I’m understeering even if I change the set-up.
“So not ideal, but hopefully we can change the trend, and be better in race trim than in qualy.”
Sainz said that the team hadn’t made any significant changes to his car, and agreed with Leclerc that the straights were an issue.
“No, we didn’t in the end do anything very differently to be honest,” he said. “So it’s not like my car was very different to Paul Ricard. So it’s just the track characteristics. There’s three consecutive long straights here.
“Our Sector 1 has been very poor all weekend. There’s those track characteristics that come into play that is clearly not suiting us very well.”