Binotto heaps praise on speedy Leclerc

Sochi (Russia) (AFP) –


Ferrari team chief Mattia Binotto praised Charles Leclerc's natural speed after the Monegasque on Saturday claimed his fourth consecutive pole position ahead of Sunday's Russian Grand Prix.

A beaming Binotto said he had been surprised by Leclerc's pure pace this season and the speed at which the young driver is learning ? in only his second year in Formula One.

Leclerc's pole success was his sixth this year and marked the seventh successive event at which he has out-qualified his team-mate four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel.

"He surprised me how fast he is at first," said Binotto. "I think he's really very fast and that's something which is important for a team when you can count on a driver who is so fast.

"That's the most you may have. Certainly, in the races where maybe we are not our best, he can somehow try to compensate and in the races he is learning.

"And then, in the races, he's learning. He's learning very fast how to manage the tyres, how to manage the entire race distance -- and I think, since the start of the year, his speed improved quite a lot."

Leclerc's success made him the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher, who reeled off seven in a row from 2000-2001, to claim four poles in succession.

The only other drivers to record seven straight poles are Ayrton Senna, who had eight poles spanning 1988 and 1989, Alain Prost and Lewis Hamilton, who wound up second for Mercedes behind Leclerc on Saturday.

Hamilton was delighted with his lap to split the two Ferraris, pushing Sebastian Vettel down to third, and afterwards described their speed on the straights as akin to a 'jet mode'.

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said it was worth eight-tenths a lap.

"It was a tough qualifying session because these guys have some crazy speeds on the straights," Hamilton explained. "They go to another level - jet mode."

Leclerc said he survived a mistake to clock his best lap in the final seconds of Q3. "I lost the rear and lost a bit of time, but the car was just getting better and better," he said.

He added that he had stuck to his routine.

"Of course, I am confident now and I try only to focus on myself, do the same as I have in all of the last four races ? I definitely don't think it will be easy!

"I just keep working and hope it all comes together for the lap."