Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were left stunned by the pace that enabled the team to lock-out the front row in qualifying for the Mexico City Grand Prix.

Ferrari had struggled from the outset at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, not featuring at the top of the timesheets throughout the three practice sessions.

That form continued into the first two stages of qualifying, but the opening runs in Q3 saw Sainz post the fastest time before Leclerc managed to usurp him by just 0.067s.

Although neither Leclerc nor Sainz could improve upon their initial times, the chasing pack were unable to dislodge either of the Italian marque’s two cars on the final laps.

Leclerc, who had ruled Ferrari out of challenging at the sharp end after Friday’s action had concluded, conceded his second consecutive pole was unexpected.

Asked whether he thought Ferrari had the potential to pip Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to top spot, Leclerc said: “Absolutely not.

“It’s been two weekends in a row where we say that, so then people will start not believing us anymore. 

“To be honest I did not expect to be on pole position today, we thought we were lacking quite a bit after FP3. But for some reason once we put everything together it went well, the new tyres we gained a lot.

“But I’m already focusing on tomorrow’s race because many pole positions but now we need to convert it in a win tomorrow and of course it’s going to be very difficult.”

However, Leclerc is wary of the extensively long run down to Turn 1 providing an opportunity at the start to Verstappen, who seized the lead from third two years ago.

“First place here I’m not sure is the best starting place,” he acknowledged. “But anyway, that’s fine, I’m happy, I’ll take that pole position.

“I’m really happy with today and now let’s finalise it tomorrow.”

Qualifying top three in parc ferme: Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23, pole position; Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23, second; Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19, third. 28.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Qualifying Day.

Meanwhile, Sainz’s weekend had began with him missing Thursday’s media day due to illness before his running in FP1 was hampered by a hydraulic problem.

But despite recovering to line up second tomorrow, the Spaniard admits that Ferrari must strive to understand why both drivers experienced mixed fortunes on their Q3 runs.

“It was a very strange one,” Sainz professed. “Honestly, the whole weekend I’ve struggled to put a lap together, and the first lap that I put together was Q3 run one.

“Suddenly it was P1 at the time, and then Charles pipped me by half a tenth.

“But I just struggle to understand where suddenly we can find half a second and then go half a second slower in the next lap.

“It’s very tricky with the tyres, and the feeling with the car is very strange around the circuit,” he continued. “But we managed to put a good lap when it counted, and it puts us in a good position for tomorrow.”

While Leclerc is hopeful of converting his fourth pole of the campaign into an elusive race win in 2023, Sainz is more wary of Ferrari’s long-run limitations tomorrow.

“Clearly, we are not as strong in high fuel as we are in low fuel,” he concluded. “I think our car benefits a lot from that new tyre, Soft tyre peak at the rear.

“We’re going to see how we can do tomorrow to keep those tyres alive and to keep that Red Bull behind, because having two cars in front is a good advantage.”

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