Saturday polesitter Leclerc launched cleanly to hold position into Turn 1 and then retained control over second-starting Perez at a safety car restart that followed AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda shedding a tyre.
But shortly after DRS was enabled, the Red Bull’s straightline advantage allowed Perez to dive cleanly up the inside into Turn 1 of lap eight for the lead and the eventual win by 4.463s.
This pass came despite the DRS zone down the main straight being cut by 100m for 2023.
Leclerc reckoned he did not fight hard to retain first, saying: “I didn’t know what to expect.
“I didn’t fight too much [Perez] because I just wanted to try and keep my tyres – I knew this was our weak point.
“I tried to stay within the DRS of [Perez] so he could pull me on the straight.
“But that wasn’t enough. We were losing a little bit too much towards the end with the degradation.”
Courtesy of topping Friday afternoon qualifying, Leclerc will also start the full grand prix on Sunday from pole but played down Ferrari’s chances of exacting revenge on Red Bull.
He reckoned the SF-23’s lesser ability to manage the Pirelli tyres meant that over a race stint, “Red Bull still has the upper hand”.
Leclerc said: “We cannot change the car [overnight]. So, of course, you can work a little bit here and there on a flap maybe.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
“But [the sprint event] confirms a little bit what we thought the Red Bull still has the upper hand in the race.
“But we again must not forget how far we were behind in race pace two races ago. So, we did a step forward. We are still not where we want to be.”
After unreliability struck in Bahrain and crashing out in Saudi Arabia, Leclerc is currently only 10th in the standings.
He, therefore, said banking points rather than creating too much risk by pushing for victory was the aim for Sunday.
He continued: “But as I said, if winning is not possible, then we just need to take the maximum points.
“Today. there wasn’t anything more so happy with second place. We’ll try to anyway go for the win tomorrow even though the Red Bull seems to be quicker.”
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