Charles Leclerc says he “had a heart attack” as a result of a Ferrari team radio message about track limits at the end of qualifying for the United States Grand Prix.
The opening runs in Q3 saw Leclerc on provisional pole position, improving on his final attempt before Max Verstappen just beat him by 0.005s. Verstappen’s time was then deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 19, but Leclerc admits he was left believing he had lost his best time for a moment with the way the news was relayed to him.
“I just had a heart attack because my engineer told me, ‘Track limits,’ and then, ‘For Verstappen,’” Leclerc said. “And when I heard ‘track limits,’ I punched the steering wheels and my helmet, and then I heard ‘for Verstappen’ and then I was, ‘OK, that’s better news for us!’
“That’s why in the moment, I just said to Xavi (Marcos Padros, race engineer) please tell me the name before the track limits, just so I don’t get too excited.”
The news meant Leclerc was on pole from Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton at the end of a close session, and he attributes his third pole in a Sprint weekend this season to how well Ferrari hits the ground running.
“The car was really good and I think this is our biggest strength when we get to a weekend like this,” the Monegasque said. “It’s a Sprint weekend — FP1, every lap counts, and it’s very important to be starting with a strong base setup of the car. That’s exactly what we did, so from the first lap I built up the confidence with the car and I felt good straight away.
“In qualifying I tried to put everything together. The first lap in Q3 felt quite a bit better than the second lap but I think there was a bit of track improvement, and the second lap was good enough for pole — even though on track we got beaten by Max, but his lap time was deleted later on — but I’m very happy to be on pole. It’s a surprise for us; We definitely did not expect to be fighting for pole position.”
Leclerc believes the track characteristics helped Ferrari negate a weakness of its car on Friday, but also points to overall progress in recent races as a sign of improving consistency.
“It’s very bumpy here and the car definitely felt good on bumps today, which gives you quite a bit of confidence to push in all the high speed,” he said. “That’s normally our weakness, but maybe because our car was good on those bumps we could at least match the others. And then our car was strong in the medium and low speed. Again, it’s very difficult to understand where you are going to be going into a weekend, but for some reason this weekend we are strongest…up until now, which is good.
“It’s a good sign. I think we have learned a massive amount since the start of the second part of the season. We haven’t brought massive upgrades since then, but we have learned how to maximize our car and that helped us to be a bit more regularly at our 100 percent, and today is once again the proof, so it’s a good sign for the future.”