Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2024

Leclerc’s impressive speed makes a Ferrari a genuine pole threat

2024 Australian GP Friday practice analysis

Posted on

| Written by

For 22 seasons since joining the Formula 1 calendar in 1996, Australia’s Albert Park circuit was the perfect venue to host the first round of the championship.

A street circuit set in the popular Australian city with multiple long straights, overtaking opportunities, a mix of slow, 90-degree and high-speed corners with plenty of bumps and minimal natural grip. Throw in a field of new cars, the odd rookie or two and it’s no wonder why races in Melbourne are often so memorable.

While Albert Park has not kicked off the world championship since 2019, it might as well be this weekend. After two rounds dominated Max Verstappenand Red Bull in what has felt more like a continuation of last season rather than an all new championship, the Australian Grand Prix looks like it might finally shake things up.

After an eventful Friday came to an end, it was not Red Bull who were fastest, but Ferrari. And by no small margin: Charles Leclerc had almost four tenths of a second over the world champion after their fastest push laps in the evening session. But while the results alone do not tell the full story, Leclerc’s declaration that this was Ferrari’s “best shot” at Red Bull to date is reason enough for fans of Ferrari or of greater competition at the front of the field in general to get excited.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2024
Many drivers struggled to keep their cars on the course
Meanwhile, Verstappen described his day as “a little bit messy” after battling with his car’s balance in the low-grip conditions, resulting in him running off late in the early session and damaging his RB20’s floor.

“I think Ferrari is quick,” the world champion accepted. “From our side, I think there are a few more things that we can fine-tune. Nothing crazy, nothing worrying. We just need to fine-tune a little bit the car.”

But Verstappen will not be the only driver seeking more time and grip from his car’s set-up overnight. From Verstappen to Leclerc, Fernando Alonso to Lewis Hamilton, George Russell to Lando Norris, Lance Stroll to Yuki Tsunoda and even honorary Aussie Valtteri Bottas, the vast majority of the field had a heart-stopping moment or two out over the two hours of practice.

“Everything is very tricky,” Leclerc explained after setting the best time of the day.

“It’s a very challenging track with quite high kerbs and the wind as well. There’s also only one line and whenever you get a bit off line, then you lose a lot of grip. But it makes it quite fun.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Back in Bahrain, Ferrari probably should have beaten Verstappen to pole. The Red Bull is strong in qualifying, but absolutely not untouchable. And second practice suggests that Ferrari may have a genuine chance on Saturday.

Max Verstappen's pit garage, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2024
Floor repairs delayed Verstappen’s start to second practice
Leclerc’s Ferrari was very strong in the mid-corner. Through turn one on his fastest lap, he came off the throttle later than many of his closest rivals but had enough confidence to plant his right foot earlier too, allowing him to pull at least a tenth over most of his competition which they never clawed back. Even more encouragingly for Ferrari, Sainz was also ahead of Verstappen for most of their best laps of the day, with Sainz later admitting he was keeping some margin to help ease himself back into the car following his appendix surgery a fortnight ago.

But it’s also clear that Red Bull likely have more performance to find through the corners. Verstappen was particularly strong exiting the fast chicane of turns nine and ten and was gaining back time rapidly on Leclerc down the approach to turn 11, only to lose all that regained time through the final corners. If Red Bull can dial in their set-up overnight and find more grip, they have every chance of making it a hat trick of poles to start the season.

However, qualifying sessions in Melbourne are anything but routine. The risk of red flags interrupting drivers on their quick laps is particularly high around Albert Park. With the amount of mistakes seen in practice over the bumps in these ultra-low riding ground effect cars, getting out early in the rush out of the pit lane towards the end of sessions may be vital, lest teams risk losing their best timed laps through having to slow down for another car’s accident.

But while this could be an intensely competitive and stressful qualifying session, Leclerc does not seem to be feeling any pressure to perform given the opportunity sitting before him.

“We are fast, so we are enjoying it,” he said. “But we need to wait and see tomorrow if we are as fast.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Combined practice times

P.#DriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
116Charles LeclercFerrari1’18.5991’17.27748
21Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’18.5821’17.6580.38140
355Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’18.6861’17.7070.43048
418Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’18.6671’17.8220.54555
514Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’19.7161’17.9120.63547
663George RussellMercedes1’18.5971’17.9510.67445
781Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’18.9181’18.0770.80054
811Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’18.6421’18.0900.81356
94Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’18.5641’18.1550.87846
1022Yuki TsunodaRB-Honda RBPT1’18.6211’18.1880.91153
1124Zhou GuanyuSauber-Ferrari1’19.9891’18.4211.14455
123Daniel RicciardoRB-Honda RBPT1’19.2741’18.5341.25755
132Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’19.5191’18.5781.30145
1477Valtteri BottasSauber-Ferrari1’20.0141’18.5851.30853
1510Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’19.6221’18.6911.41458
1627Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’19.6041’18.7021.42549
1731Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’19.5611’18.7051.42857
1844Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’18.7711’18.8341.49443
1920Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’19.4891’19.2751.99852
2023Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’19.4432.16611

Teams’ progress vs 2023

2024 Australian Grand Prix

Browse all 2024 Australian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

11 comments on “Leclerc’s impressive speed makes a Ferrari a genuine pole threat”

  1. That’s all well and good but it’s pace over an entire race that matters isn’t it? We can all dream of course but Max can probably win this starting from rows waaaaay further than the first.

    1. Yeah it’s probably gonna be another walk in the (Albert) Park for Max..

  2. Unfortunately, single-lap pace alone is insufficient.

  3. him getting pole doesn’t really mean anything anymore if he can’t convert it to a win. race pace is what matters after all

    1. I mean, for how this season is going, a pole would be a start for someone other than verstappen, but yes ofc, it’s just for bragging rights, can’t lead to a win except maybe at monaco or singapore.

  4. Don’t do that. Don’t give me hope.

    1. Coyote hope?

  5. Think the mercs were .5 up in the first practice of the season. Then look what happened. I do think Ferrari have the best chance of catching them though.

  6. I miss the Friday analyses that showed all drivers’ long run pace and each could be toggled on and off. That was a very informative look at potential race pace.

  7. Sorry, I’m watching something interesting for change. Christchurch is the place and SailGP is on!

  8. Max had a scrappy friday, and he was never in the right synch to set a proper flying lap. This is just Friday news. Whats more interesting is Mclarens long run pace which equalled or bettered Ferrari, and up there with Perez best times.

Comments are closed.