Charles Leclerc believes Red Bull remains too strong for Ferrari on race pace in Las Vegas despite ending up half a second clear in the sole completed practice session.

Leclerc had led the way from the outset, but FP1 lasted only eight minutes as Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz came to a halt down the Strip after hitting a water valve cover.

The track action was not restarted to allow the relevant parties to check other drain covers across the brand-new 6.2km Las Vegas Strip Circuit, with second practice extensively delayed before getting underway with an extended 90-minute long session.

Once again, Leclerc was immediately on the pace and eventually wound up quickest of all, 0.517s clear of Sainz after Ferrari managed to repair the damage to his car.

Ferrari had been tipped to thrive on Formula 1’s debut visit to the Las Vegas Strip Circuit due to the combination of a low-downforce track layout and cooler temperatures.

But while the Monegasque is optimistic about being in the battle for pole position, he cautions that Red Bull still had the upper hand over the longer race runs in practice.

“It looks good for now,” Leclerc reflected. “I like the track, it’s fun to drive, I always like street tracks, but this one is a good one.

“We look quite strong for now. Difficult to understand exactly where we are on race pace, but in quali pace we seem strong.

“We still have to work and do a step forward for tomorrow, but it’s a good start.”

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari. 16.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Practice Day.

Asked whether Ferrari had enough in hand to take the fight to Red Bull this weekend, Leclerc replied: “I don’t know. I think in qualifying as always we’ll be there. In race pace, I think they are still too strong, Max [Verstappen] has done a really good race sim.

“So as always, for sure, they will be strong on Sunday, or Saturday this time, [and] qualifying tomorrow will be close.”

Meanwhile, Sergio Perez is wary of the threat Ferrari could present, with the Italian marque responsible for ending Red Bull’s unbeaten run at F1’s last street venue in Singapore.

The Mexican contends that both Ferrari drivers continuously made improvements as the recently relayed low-grip track surface continued to evolve throughout practice.

“I think Ferrari are looking very strong, not just on the pace, when you look at their footage they always seem to be able to find something, but come race day I think we are going to be there,” Perez outlined.

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