Ferrari: ‘Extreme’ qualifying focus paid off with Monaco pole

Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies says the team’s “extreme preparations” for qualifying laid the foundations for Charles Leclerc’s surprise Formula 1 pole in Monaco on Saturday.

Leclerc swept to Ferrari’s first F1 pole position in 18 months after topping Q3 by two-tenths of a second, edging out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, while teammate Carlos Sainz took fourth on the grid.

Although Ferrari’s celebrations were muted after Leclerc crashed at the end of qualifying and left the team sweating on possible gearbox damage, it marked a big breakthrough for the Italian marque after a disastrous 2020 season.

Ferrari has spent the early part of the season fighting with McLaren to lead the midfield, struggling to match Mercedes and Red Bull for pace.

But it was able to compete with both teams from the start of practice in Monaco, finishing with at least one car in the top two in every single session.

“It was good, for sure, to fight on the front, to fight for pole was good,” Mekies said following qualifying.

“Both Carlos and Charles have been fast all weekend, from the first time the car hit the ground here. To still be in that position by the time that qualifying comes, when Q3 comes, was certainly a good feeling and a good reward for all the efforts to put the car back into that position.

“We feel that it’s just a step showing us that we’re working in the right direction. It doesn’t remove what we have ahead of us, but that feeling was certainly good.”

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The performance has led to hopes that Ferrari can end its win drought dating back to the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix, where Sebastian Vettel scored his final victory for the team.

With overtaking notoriously difficult around Monaco, Mekies acknowledged that Leclerc was in a strong position, saying the team’s focus on qualifying pace from the start of the weekend had paid off.

“I don’t think you have any driver that starts on pole that thinks he cannot win the race,” Mekies said.

“Of course, it’s a completely different game. There is no secret that we have focused on our preparations pretty much for qualy, for obvious reasons here.

“But we did it to quite an extreme level, and you have seen it on Thursday, when people were questioning our lap time.

“It’s very much because we were focused on trying to extract the most for quali.

“For sure, if you start at the front, you are going to target to fight for the wins. That would be a lie if I was thinking otherwise.”

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