Motor racing-Revived Ferrari hail a big step forward after dire 2020

Formula One F1 - Spanish Grand Prix - Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - May 9, 2021 Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in action during the race REUTERS/Nacho Doce

(Reuters) - Ferrari, Formula One's oldest and most glamorous team, have a new spring in their step after slumping to a 40-year low last year.

After ending last season winless and sixth overall, Ferrari can currently lay claim to being the third fastest team after four races in 2021 -- even if they are currently fourth and five points behind McLaren.

Charles Leclerc, now a point behind McLaren's fourth-placed Lando Norris in the standings, has qualified fourth on three occasions this year and finished in the top six in every race.

He finished fourth in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix behind Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Ferrari's 18 point haul from the Circuit de Catalunya was the third best performance of any team, with Spaniard Carlos Sainz coming home seventh.

"We head home believing that we have taken a significant step forward compared to where we were in 2020," said team boss Mattia Binotto.

After four races last year Ferrari were also fourth overall but with 43 points compared to their current 60.

"I don't think there's a big weakness like there was maybe a bit more last year on the race pace," said Leclerc, whose next race will be at home in Monaco.

"I feel like this year it's a lot more balanced and we are actually stronger in qualifying and in the race."

Sainz, who has moved from McLaren to replace four times world champion Vettel, is still getting up to speed in his new surroundings but has scored in three races.

Asked whether he felt people were no longer making fun of Ferrari, Leclerc sounded bemused.

"I have never really considered people were laughing at us," said the 23-year-old, who won two races in 2019 before the slump.

"We have been focusing on ourselves. Last year was definitely a difficult season to accept where we were but I think the team has done a great job... we've been working in the best way possible I think since that moment onwards."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by...)

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