Arthur Leclerc isn’t letting his thoughts run away thinking about the title fight and admits that although he’s been on the pace every weekend, he’s lacking consistency in his 2022 campaign.
Courtesy of his first win of the season in the Silverstone Feature Race, the PREMA Racing driver sits second in the Drivers’ Championship and is within touching distance of ART Grand Prix’s Victor Martins. The two are separated by only six points heading into Round 5 at Spielberg.
Speaking ahead of the weekend, the Monégasque highlighted that he’s faced some unlucky moments earlier on, but said he needs to build up his confidence behind the wheel as the competitive field is putting him under pressure.
“I feel quite confident, we did a really good job so far in the beginning of the year,” Leclerc said. “Of course, it wasn't perfect because of some tricky Qualifying sessions. Sometimes the luck has not been on our side but, in the end, we are making the best out of it. In Silverstone we had a really good weekend and now we will try to just keep the momentum going into Austria.
“It's difficult to expect anything because we’ve seen in F3 it’s really close. Let’s see come Free Practice and then after we’ll try to build our confidence in the car and everything from there to push forward for Qualifying and the races.
“We keep working but there are a lot of challenges in this Championship. There are many drivers that can aim for pole, so it’s constant work and a constant stress about performing."
Qualifying has been Leclerc’s Achilles heel this year. Across the opening four rounds, he’s qualified in 14th, 21st, fifth and second last time out. While he admits his one-lap pace hasn’t always been consistent, he believes he’s been on the ball with his race pace and is refusing to get distracted by the title fight.
“Looking at the big picture, in terms of pace, we have been consistently in the front, so I'm very happy. It’s early to focus on the Championship - I don’t really look at the points now. I just keep my head down, working every time and taking the opportunities when they come."
There certainly should be no shortfall in opportunities this weekend. At 4.318km and with 10 corners, the Red Bull Ring features the fewest corners on the Formula 3 Calendar and is the second shortest track behind Zandvoort later this year.
However, the Spielberg circuit’s size is also a cause for concern for Leclerc, who worries that drivers could end up tripping over each other in Qualifying, as each tries to find a gap.
“What I like about this track is definitely not the Qualifying! There’s a lot of mess caused by traffic before the lap, but then after, what I really like is the racing. There are a lot of straights and slow corners so you can attempt some good overtakes. It’s a bit better than other tracks because of the layout, but it will be interesting to see.”
There will be no margin for error in Friday afternoon’s session and Leclerc predicts that the gap could be even tighter than what we’ve seen already this year. In Silverstone, Zak O’Sullivan pipped the Ferrari Academy Junior to pole by only 0.027s, but Red Bull Ring’s condensed layout means that the little things are going to count the most.
“Every single detail counts around this circuit because there’s only six proper corners, so the lap times will all be very close. It’s a really short track. Obviously, one tenth of a second is like maybe two or three tenths at another track – you have to really focus on details."
With rain forecast for the weekend, the weather could throw another curveball the drivers’ way. While Leclerc’s excited about the potential for racing in the wet and the opportunity to react to changing conditions – he’s not too enthusiastic about the unpredictability.
“It’s about adapting yourself quickly to the situation with the tyres and everything. Obviously, it would be interesting, but you can’t predict anything – that's the thing that’s good for the fans but not for me!”