Leclerc praises upgrade package, but calls for further improvement

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Emilia Romagna, Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrariit

Ferrari still needs to find more pace in its SF-24 if it really wants to challenge for race wins, says Charles Leclerc after the Imola F1 race that saw him fail to to achieve more than a third place.

Leclerc has had a smooth weekend, having displayed impressive pace from the opening practice session. The Monegasque set the benchmark on Friday, and was hopeful that he could challenge for pole position, but he ultimately ended up fourth quickest as he was unable to keep up with Red Bull's Verstappen and the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri in Saturday's all-important session.

Leclerc was then promoted to third on the grid due to a three-place grid penalty for Piastri, and maintained this position in the race to take his fourth podium finish in the opening seven grands prix.

"Today’s race went well and we got even closer to our rivals. If we had qualified higher up, we could have presented our fans with an even better result. After changing on to the Hard tyres I had great pace and managed to make up ground on Lando (Norris) and Max (Verstappen,) but in the end the McLaren was quicker than us, although not by much.

"Overall, there are plenty of positives to take away from this race: the upgrades worked as expected and we are more competitive. We must continue to work to close the gap, which although small, still separates us from the race winner. Obviously, we dedicate this result and our performance to the tifosi who are the best fans in the world and they always support us come what may. I’m sure we’ll soon be able to pay them back with a win."

His team-mate Carlos Sainz had a much more difficult weekend as he appeared to struggle for pace. The Spaniard looked slightly off the pace in the middle part of the challenging Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari all through the weekend which he wants to review on Monday as his team will carry out a review and crucial race debrief at Maranello.

"I cannot be happy after what was a tough race for me. I need to review it with the team to understand why I’ve not been comfortable with the car both in qualifying and today pace-wise. We will regroup tomorrow to start preparing for Monaco and hopefully we can get a better result there. The fight at the top is starting to get tight and we need to continue pushing."

Speaking of the the first of two home races, Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur said: "First of all I would like to thank all the tifosi as it was very special to see them under the podium after the race. They brought us a lot of energy this week. Overall, it was a good weekend beyond the performance on track.

"Today we brought home the best result we could, as it is very difficult to overtake here. When we were pushing we were able to close the gap, but we had to be careful about overheating the tyres and we did not have enough pace difference to overtake. Unfortunately, the outcome of the Grand Prix was very much connected to yesterday’s qualifying and we need to do a better job in the next races as we can now see that our competitiveness in the race itself has really improved.

The Frenchman took delight from his team's improved pace, but he is aware of the need of further improvements: "I think today’s race was also a very good advert for Formula 1 as we saw three teams in seven seconds after more than 60 laps, which means the gaps are less than one tenth per lap. We are definitely on the pace now and we can fight for the top spot, even if we still need to make a small step forward.