Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz had their first taste of Ferrari’s upgrade package, comprising revised sidepods and floor, as the Italian spent the opening day of running evaluating their new parts.
Leclerc completed a back-to-back by running Ferrari’s old sidepods in FP1, before finishing 0.339s off the pace of Max Verstappen in sixth as he tried out the new design.
The Monegasque revealed the upgrades “felt pretty good” but admitted Ferrari still have plenty of work to do to “optimise” the package.
“We had a few new parts on the car and I think it’s a great track to test these new upgrades,” Leclerc said.
“The feeling is quite okay. We still have a lot of work to do in order to optimise the package, but it felt pretty good.”
Leclerc added: “We are step-by-step trying to push more the car in places that we haven’t yet, because we didn’t have the time.
“Just the normal process of having a new part and slowing going in the direction more.”
Home hero Sainz, who debuted the package in the morning session, echoed Leclerc’s early assessment that the car “feels good”.
“We’ve tested the new package but it’s impossible to compare. Only Charles had a proper back-to-back,” the Spaniard said.
“For me it was put [on] and run and we just tuned the car to adapt it to the balance that we have.”
Asked whether he thinks Ferrari will be in the fight for pole, Leclerc replied: “It’s very difficult to answer that question because it’s closer than ever, apart from Red Bull who are in a league of their own with the car, especially in race-pace.
“Everyone else seems to be more or less there. The one that will be in front will be the one that does the perfect lap, so it will be very close.”
Sainz also predicted a competitive qualifying in Barcelona, saying: “It’s going to be tight. The field today was particularly tight.
“Obviously we don’t know fuel loads and engine modes but there were a few cars from the midfield joining the top teams and mixing it up with us. I expect to be the same as in Monaco.
“It just shows the field is closing up and it’s going to be a good challenge in quali.”