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Charles Leclerc hopes to be third-time lucky with Ferrari at Singapore Grand Prix

SINGAPORE – Charles Leclerc knows he is the fastest man at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. At least over one qualifying lap. After all, he has put his Ferrari on pole at the last two editions of the Singapore Grand Prix.

But staying in front of the chasing pack has been his Achilles heel. In 2019, he finished second behind then-teammate Sebastian Vettel and, in 2022, he lost his lead to Sergio Perez before Turn 1 on the first lap, eventually settling for second again, behind the Red Bull driver.

Unsurprisingly, the Monegasque, whose last chequered flag was at the Austrian Grand Prix in July 2022, is excited about the track changes at sector three. The old corners 16 to 19 are gone – due to the construction of NS Square and the removal of the Bay Grandstand – and replaced by a new 400m straight that could be decisive late in the race.

Leclerc, 25, said in a Singapore GP Instagram post: “The new layout should be a bit easier to overtake, which is an exciting chance for racing.”

He has three podium finishes this campaign, a poor return given his undoubted pedigree. He told Ferrari’s in-house media: “None of us are happy in the performance we are showing at the moment, apart from the last race (at home in Monza where the Scuderia were third and fourth), of course, where we are quite proud and happy.

“But the rest of the season has been very difficult. We are also aware it’s normal people are talking a lot about Ferrari, because Ferrari is Ferrari, because of all the history we have in the sport.

“It’s our duty to make it back to the top.”

His Formula One record of five wins alongside 20 poles suggests a highly talented racer but perhaps not the ruthless winning machine his rival Max Verstappen (47 wins, 28 poles) has evolved into.

No wonder Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur, who was with Leclerc at Sauber in 2018 and has a close relationship with him, has heaped praise on the flying Dutchman.

“What is impressive is that they (Red Bull) have always had mega pace. From Monaco to Monza, covering all aspects of every track, they have performed,” said Vasseur.

“But what is most impressive for me is that Max – and not just in the last 10 races but over the last two years – hasn’t made a single mistake.

“For sure, it’s easier not to make a mistake when you have a margin over the others but, even in these kinds of circumstances, he is able to manage the situation very well.”

While Red Bull have been all-conquering in 2023, winning all 14 grands prix, there is some hope that dominance will be severely tested this week.

Singapore is one of the hardest circuits to overtake on due to its short start-finish straight, lack of lengthy DRS (drag reduction system) zones and abundance of 90-degree corners. Eight of the 13 previous winners have started on pole.

If Ferrari were to lock out the front row, Verstappen and Perez could struggle to get past them, even if their race pace was quicker.

Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has expressed his concerns. He said: “Like every race, we have had a competitive car everywhere, so why should that not be the case in Singapore? But I have to say Ferrari, and especially Leclerc, is a specialist around there.

“If they are faster in qualifying, then it could become a problem for us because overtaking in Singapore is very difficult. But I’m still optimistic that the package we are bringing to Singapore is good enough to win.”

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