SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) – Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished runner-up in Austria for the second year running on Sunday but this time it left no bitter taste.
“It feels like a victory today,” the 22-year-old Ferrari driver told reporters after a season-opener he judged to have been one of his best races since he arrived in Formula One in 2018.
“We have been struggling from the beginning of the weekend, we’ve had luck in this race with the various safety cars, crashes, penalties but at the end we stayed on track,” added the Monegasque.
“I gave my maximum. I think we managed the race perfectly with the package we have at the moment.”
Last year Leclerc had started on pole only to lose out to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at the energy drink-owned team’s home track.
This time he had started seventh on the grid, with four times world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel lining up 11th and finishing 10th in a car Ferrari admit lacks straight line speed.
“To have a P2 (second place)…with the performance we had all weekend is something I would have never expected so we made the best out of it,” said Leclerc, a double race winner last season.
“We are quick around the corners but we struggle. We’ll have a new package in Hungary to try and fix a little bit more this issue. It has been a very difficult race today, struggling to overtake.”
Hungary is the third round of the season, with Austria hosting a second race next weekend that will be designated the Styrian Grand Prix after the surrounding region.
“Charles drove an amazing race, fighting like a lion from the first to the last lap and making the most of every opportunity that came his way,” said team boss Mattia Binotto.
“Today’s second place is mainly down to him.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ken Ferris)