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Ferrari's Charles Leclerc slipstream helped but wasn't crucial for French GP pole

LE CASTELLET, France -- Charles Leclerc said the slipstream he picked up from his teammate in qualifying for the French Grand Prix was helpful but not the defining factor in him taking pole position ahead of Max Verstappen on Saturday.

Leclerc beat his title rival to pole by 0.304 seconds at Paul Ricard on a lap in which he benefitted from a tow from teammate Carlos Sainz.

Slipstreaming behind another car helps reduce drag and increase top speed, and Ferrari sent Sainz out on track ahead of Leclerc so that he could offer his teammate a straight-line speed advantage on the Mistral straight, where the Ferrari had been lacking performance relative to Red Bull during practice.

Sainz was in a position to sacrifice his own qualifying session to help Leclerc after receiving a back-of-the-grid penalty for a full power unit change on Saturday morning, which meant he would start on the last row of the grid regardless of his performance.

Leclerc was thankful for the help but said it did not account for his full advantage over Verstappen.

"I think the advantage of the tow was around 0.2s compared to Q2," Leclerc said. "So it's significant and it would have been a lot more tight with Max without the tow. So it was a nice help anyway."

The Ferrari drivers attempted the slipstream twice in Q3, and Leclerc said it offered the full benefit only on the second attempt.

"It's quite tricky to get it exactly right. The first lap we were a bit too close in Turns 8 and 9, so I lost a bit there and just drove not in the best way possible. On the second lap we adapted that and then it was better, and that was the lap. So we did a good job communication-wise, and also Carlos helping me was amazing."

However, Leclerc is wary of Red Bull's race performance and is not expecting an easy run to victory on Sunday.

"I think it will be tricky because the Red Bull guys were very, very quick in the race simulations they did yesterday [in practice]," Leclerc added. "We worked a little bit on the car for the race [since Friday], so hopefully it will go better for us tomorrow.

"Tyre management was good for us in Austria and we struggled a bit more yesterday, but we think we have done a significant step up since tomorrow for yesterday."