Frustrated Leclerc fails to fire Ferrari into F1 contention

Formula One F1 - Australian Grand Prix - Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, Melbourne, Australia - April 1, 2023 Ferrari's Charles Leclerc during qualifying REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Ferrari's Charles Leclerc expressed disappointment after he could only manage seventh in qualifying for the Formula One Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, as he and team mate Carlos Sainz once again failed to bridge the gap to Red Bull.

Reigning champion Max Verstappen took pole position for Red Bull, with Mercedes driver George Russell on the front row for Sunday's race at Albert Park after qualifying second ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton.

Leclerc said he was frustrated after being caught behind Sainz during Saturday's third qualifying session, hampering his lap time.

"I don't know what happened in the second round of Q3, whether it was a miscommunication with Carlos," Leclerc told reporters. "But I found myself behind him for the first sector, which wasn't great."

He said the Ferrari was performing better in Albert Park than in its outing in Jeddah two weeks ago, blaming his own performance for his qualifying position as well as the miscommunication with Sainz.

"I feel like we are quite competitive, but I just didn't put everything together," Leclerc said.

"Honestly, the feeling is better, but again today I'm not particularly happy about the way I drove," he said. "I think the car was actually quite good."

Sainz, who will start in fifth behind fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso, said Mercedes were much closer to contention than many realised.

"They are lot faster than what people think," he told Sky Sports.

"That car is quick. It is clearly not as quick as Red Bull, no one is, but if they put qualifying together they can be a very strong package."

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

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