The first day of the inaugural Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was a busy one for everyone involved, trying out the new two day format for the first time, with the race at Imola's Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari starting at 13.10 CET tomorrow . Today, there was just one free practice session prior to qualifying. The grid deciding session did not look too kindly on Scuderia Ferrari, with its drivers qualifying on the fourth and seventh rows. For Charles in particular it was played out to the nearest thousandth of a second.
When the light went green in pit lane, the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers went out immediately to put a time on the board. On the Softs, Charles immediately did a time good enough to make the cut in 1:15.123. The grandstands were empty, but several Scuderia Ferrari Clubs had arranged to hang banners across from the pits in order to let the team feel their support. Sebastian had to do an extra run on Softs, getting through in 1:15.705.
In the second phase, Charles and Seb tried to get through to Q3 on the Medium tyres so as to have them for the race start, doing two runs each. Charles went from 1:15.625 to 1:15.338; while Seb did a 1:16.302 followed by a 1:15.817. With the Monegasque tenth and the German 15th, they both fitted Softs for a further run. Charles made the cut to Q3 with a 1:15.017, while Sebastian's did a 1:15.385 and then a 1:15.017, 13th fastest, but it was disallowed, thus dropping him a further position.
Charles did two runs on Softs in the final part, with lap times of 1:14.812 followed by a 1:14.617. Behind the top three, the fourth to eighth places on the grid are all within less than two tenths of one another, Charles being seventh, 44 thousandths off a place on the third row and just 114 thousandths off fourth placed Pierre Gasly. The Monegasque will have to start the race on Soft tyres, whereas the German will have a free choice with a fight up the order in prospect.
Charles Leclerc: "I love this track, especially in quali, when you get to ride the kerbs a lot more.
"We struggled quite a bit today with the balance of the car and I am not really satisfied with my lap and the way I drove in Q3, but in the end we got P7, which is not terrible, but probably we expected something better. Everyone is very closely matched but looking at the gap to P4 it's disappointing to see we are three places down.
"Tomorrow will be tricky, as it's going to be difficult to overtake. We are starting on a set of soft tyres that has already done two laps in Q2, but after the first stint things should be fine. The race is tomorrow and that's when the points are scored."
Sebastian Vettel: "I was reasonably happy with my laps, but obviously we were not quick enough. In qualifying I was happier with the feeling of the car, I was a bit more comfortable than this morning and I tried to squeeze everything out of the package. I was taking a few more risks and for this reason I went wide in the chicane and in the end we lost one position to the track limits rule.
"We are starting at the back and therefore it will be difficult tomorrow to make up places, because overtaking is not so easy here. It will be important to look after the tyres and then we will see. I think we will be aiming for a one-stop race. Today was my first day at this track and I'm still getting totally familiar with it but I have to say that is a really nice track to drive. I hope we will come back here in the near future."
Laurent Mekies, Sporting Director: "Qualifying went pretty much the same way as last weekend, even if we had hoped for something a bit better. However, it does confirm that we are making progress compared to where we were in mid-season and on a track with different characteristics to Portimão. Fourth place, which is pretty much our target at the moment, escaped Charles by just over a tenth, but all the same, for the ninth time this season, he was in the top ten on Saturday afternoon.
"Sebastian seemed more comfortable than previously in the car, but was unable to make the cut out of Q2 and will again start from the lower half of the grid, although he at least has a free choice of tyre compound for the first stint.
"We again tried to get into Q3 on the Mediums to have the strategic benefit tomorrow, doing the first Q2 run on this compound. After the first runs, in Seb's case it was clear that he should try and improve with the Softs and with Charles it was too risky to try again on the harder tyre, so we played it safe.
"The two day weekend obviously means less time to prepare in the usual way for the race, so today's long runs were a bit less representative, so that will be another unknown factor to consider. However, our aim remains the same: to bring home as many points as possible with both drivers, to make up ground in the Constructors' classification."
Check out our Saturday gallery from Imola, here.