The Scuderia had hoped for a sign of optimism given the extensive changes to the rear of the car and the power unit as the team attempts to pull itself out of the slump that was created by last season’s poor form.
“I don’t know how it looked from the outside but I have been struggling massively this weekend,” Leclerc told Sky Sports F1.
“In FP2, FP3 I have been struggling with the car and overdriving a little bit, not driving very well in general. I knew inside I could do a good lap but until you do it you never really know if you can.
“Then arrived quali and the feeling was good from the beginning. I built up the pace and managed to do that lap in Q3 which I am very happy with.
“I think it was a bit gusty. At turn 13 I struggled a bit with the rears but I was still able to go around the corner without losing too much time.
“The first part of the lap I thought the wind was very similar and I was able to gain time there but with the wind gusts in the second and last sector, I was able to keep the time equal. Very happy at the end of the lap.”
Despite qualifying so close to the Mercedes drivers, Leclerc has ruled out battling for the podium positions, instead focusing on keeping the AlphaTauri cars behind.
“I have to say that after seeing [Friday’s] pace, I am very impressed with AlphaTauri,” the Monegasque added.
“They were very, very quick on the race pace and they are also starting on medium tyres tomorrow.
“It is going to be tricky but our goal is to try to at least keep our position. Top three is not a realistic goal yet but fourth and I would be satisfied.”