Sept 12 (Reuters) - Charles Leclerc qualified fifth for Ferrari's 1,000th Formula One world championship race on Saturday and said it was more than he could have expected.
The sport's most successful team, who have made history with the likes of Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher and been part of the landscape since 1950, are facing their worst season for 40 years.
Sixth overall going into the race at scenic Mugello, a circuit they own, and on the back of a double retirement at the Italian motorsport temple Monza, Ferrari had no great hopes for this weekend.
The fact that 22-year-old Leclerc ended up as best of the rest in qualifying behind the two Mercedes and Red Bull drivers was something of a surprise.
Four-times world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel, leaving for Aston Martin at the end of the year, could manage only 14th and was more than half a second slower than the Monegasque.
"It was definitely amazing. P5 is definitely the best we could have done today and I did not expect it. So very, very happy," said Leclerc.
"The balance definitely feels a lot better... in Monza I was really not confident in the car and I was probably not driving at my best because I did not have the confidence.
"This weekend I've had a lot of confidence in the car."
Leclerc said Ferrari, whose first F1 championship race was in Monaco in the inaugural 1950 season with a first victory at Silverstone in 1951, were still down on performance to those ahead.
He expected a tough time in Sunday's race with the likes of Renault and McLaren behind but vowed to do his best to defend position.
The fifth place slot was Ferrari's highest grid position since the fourth round of the season at Silverstone when he started fourth.
The Italian team had failed to get either car into the final phase of qualifying at Spa and Monza.
Ferrari's cars are racing at Mugello with a retro burgundy livery harking back to the team's beginnings. As a nod to that history, Formula One's Mercedes safety car is also red for the weekend. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)