Charles Leclerc says Ferrari had the pace to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix if it had qualified in a better position.

Ferrari brought an upgraded car to the first European round of the season and looked quick throughout Friday, with Leclerc fastest in each of the first two practice sessions. Max Verstappen recovered from a challenging start to the weekend to take pole position ahead of Lando Norris, with the Ferraris making up the second row and Leclerc believing more was possible over one lap that would have made a better finish than third place realistic.

“It’s not the best track to judge upgrades, mostly because curb riding is such a thing here that if you have a good car on curbs, then that could hide a bit more what is the real order,” Leclerc said. “The good thing is that everything we expected from those upgrades, we had it. In terms of data, it did exactly what it was supposed to do, which is always a good thing.

“Then looking back, re-analyzing qualifying, I think we basically lost everything at the launch. For some reason, we had a slightly different power strategy compared to McLaren and Red Bull, and we lost everything on the run down to Turn 2. Max, on top of that, had the slipstream .

“But this is something we’ll have to look into, because especially on a track like this, track position is absolutely everyth ing. And when you only have a tenth in between Red Bull, McLaren, and ourselves, we need to do everything perfect. And the third place cost us maybe a better result in the race.”

Early in the second half of the race, Leclerc closed in on Norris in second place but then cut a chicane and dropped over two seconds back. Although Norris then pulled away to challenge Verstappen for victory, Leclerc says the incident meant he couldn’t stay close to the McLaren as he increased his pace.

“To be honest my pace was quite similar for the whole stint. It’s more Lando that then gained quite a bit of pace, and it was not possible for me to come back within DRS.

“Then I was in a very awkward gap to Lando where you don’t get the benefits of the DRS, but you are just losing in the corners, which at the beginning of the stint with the hard , with our pace advantage, I could get within DRS. But then as soon as I lost it, it was also at the same time Lando started to push a bit more. And the two things put together made me go back a little bit.

“But I also had to try something a little bit different. I knew that by managing the tires and attacking Lando at the end it was not the right thing because the pace advantage was not enough. So I just tried at the beginning to put him under a bit more pressure. But yeah, it wasn’t enough.”

There are further positives for Leclerc to take out of the race weekend, though, after he picked up a first podium for Ferrari at Imola since 2006 on his first weekend with a new race engineer in Bryan Bozzi.

“He has done very well. I mean, it’s always very tricky whenever you change, especially in the middle of the season, like it was the case here. So there was lots of new things that he had to get up to speed to.

“I also had Johannes (Hatz), who was my performance engineer, who was new on track. So I had two people in my team that were new in their role and that was quite difficult at the beginning, but actually they’ve done an incredible job and it went really well. Now we’ll work on that and try to get better, but it’s a really good start.”