Leclerc warns Ferrari will face Spa race test

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Charles Leclerc warned Ferrari can expect a major race-day challenge from Mercedes at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Ferrari on Saturday secured their first front-row lockout since the second race of the season in Bahrain, with the Italian team finishing first in every practice session and all three portions of qualifying.

A dominant Leclerc was an astonishing 0.748 seconds clear of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, the largest advantage any driver has achieved in the 2019 season and the sixth time in a row he has out-qualified the German.

Mercedes and Red Bull were even further behind, with Lewis Hamilton third followed by Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen, but Leclerc insists the race-pace performance for each of the main teams will be very different to what they could demonstrate over a single lap.

Asked for his Sunday expectations, Leclerc said: "I don't know. We have been quick since FP1 but once we did the race simulations in FP2 we weren't as quick, so I think it's not going to be easy.

"We'll try to give everything. The Saturday gap is quite big but it doesn't mean it will be like that on Sunday so we will be working hard to improve the race run from Friday and we will see."

The race will be overshadowed by Saturday's tragic death of Anthoine Hubert, who lost his life at the age of 22 following a Formula 2 crash at the Spa circuit.

That incident came after the Formula One grid placings were settled, and Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the "dreadful" situation was "a brutal reminder that this sport that we love so much is still very dangerous".

Leclerc, speaking before that tragic news emerged, said of his pole position: "It obviously feels amazing. It was very tricky, especially in Q3 I struggled quite a lot - the start of the lap was always very messy. But in the end I managed to do the rest of the lap OK. I did not expect to be that far ahead."

The 21-year-old's pole was his third of the season, while Vettel started from first position in Canada, but a series of mishaps, controversies and misfortunes have meant Ferrari are somehow yet to win a race in 2019.

In Bahrain, a heart-breaking late engine problem for Leclerc handed victory to Hamilton, while Verstappen passed him for a famous win in Austria.

Leclerc said: "Obviously Bahrain was nothing to do with me, so nothing to take from there. Austria – lesson learned – but I already showed it in Silverstone as I spoke about the [aggression] level I had with my opponents.

"At first it feels a bit weird coming to Formula One when you are doing your first laps in the lead, but the more laps I do in the lead, the more comfortable I am."

Vettel won last year's race at Spa but has not tasted victory in the 12 months since.

He said of his qualifying effort: "Messy. I was getting into a sort of rhythm, it took a little bit longer for me to get hold of the car but Q3 felt quite messy, a lot of queuing for the last corner with everyone trying to get a tow.

"Then the tyres are not there where they are meant to be and being further back in the line was not easy, but obviously Charles did a better job.

"The straights were good but I was too close [to the other cars] and lost quite a bit in the second sector. Not happy with my final attempt, it wasn't clean - but I'm not worried."