Charles Leclerc admits he is surprised Ferrari was not more competitive compared to Mercedes during practice for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Ferrari has taken the last four pole positions in a row since the summer break, winning on the first three occasions before Sebastian Vettel’s retirement helped Mercedes win in Russia. With growing confidence in the car’s performance level, Leclerc admits he was expecting to be closer to Mercedes at Suzuka and so was surprised to be over 0.3s off the pace in FP2, despite a late lap on soft tires in case the session sets the grid for Sunday’s race.

“We didn’t get through absolutely everything, but I think we made the most out of our day, which was the most important,” Leclerc said after finishing fourth quickest. “But it seems we are lacking pace this weekend, which is a bit of a surprise because at the end we were very strong in the last four races. We expected to be quite good here, but it’s less this case. We will be working to prepare at its best for qualifying on Sunday.

“The balance is not that bad, actually. We are just lacking speed. There’s a little bit in driving too. I expect it to be hard to catch Mercedes in front.”

“It’s not too bad,” Vettel said. “Not as bad as maybe you think. I think we were quite OK, but just lacking overall pace. I think Mercedes is very comfortable straight from this morning, so not a surprise they were able to show that again in FP2. For us, I think we have a bit of room to improve.

“It wasn’t an ideal session, maybe using our tires not the way we could have. We’ll see what we find tomorrow. We’ll stay indoors and see what happens on Sunday.”

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