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Portimao qualifying shows I have a lot to learn

Leclerc qualified fourth for each of the first two races of the 2021 season, but slumped to eighth in Portugal last weekend after struggling to nail his final lap in Q3.

It resigned Leclerc to a qualifying defeat to Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr and meant he could only recover to sixth place in the race, losing out in the midfield fight to McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies said that Leclerc seemed “less comfortable” at Portimao with the tricky track conditions, lacking the usual “magic” he can deliver across one lap to outstrip the performance of the car.

“He has this capacity to extract two-tenths that we didn’t know were there in our car,” Mekies said. “He does that on a regular basis. It’s nearly normal business for him to do that.”

Leclerc said that while he was grateful for Mekies’ comment, he felt his display in Portugal showed that he still had room for improvement when it came to approaching qualifying.

“I feel like yesterday shows also that I’ve got a lot to learn still,” Leclerc said after the race.

“Surely qualifying is one of my strengths. But yesterday, and overall, this weekend has been quite poor for me. So, very inconsistent. So there’s still a lot to work on my side.”

A number of drivers reported struggles with the low-grip asphalt at Portimao, which combined with the hardest selection of Pirelli tyres left many feeling uncomfortable throughout the weekend.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Leclerc explained that he struggle with building up his lap time across all three stages of qualifying, having gained just 0.067 seconds between his best laps in Q1 and Q3.

“What I learned from this weekend is maybe I should have taken it step by step, especially on such a difficult weekend like this,” Leclerc said.

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“I’ve tried to push the car to its limit straight away and it made my weekend very, very messy.

“If I look Friday and Saturday, they haven’t been very good days for me, and I was just all over the place and once in 10 laps I managed to do a very good lap, but I was just not consistent.

“Maybe in those conditions, I should have taken it a bit more step by step, which I did today [in the race].”

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