Leclerc’s last victory in the Italian Grand Prix in 2019.
Even the best sometimes make mistakes.
Charles Leclerc withdrew from the Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday with a fault in the first round. In a collision with Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, who was still winning, he broke the front suspension of a Ferrari.
He imposed a three-point fine on Leclerc in the final of the season at the weekend in Abu Dhabi, but it is a rare departure of the 23-year-old in a season in which he is much more associated with moments of sublime quality.
The day before the mistake was made on race day, Leclerc showed that the qualifying races were so good that it could only be one lap of the season.
He placed his Ferrari in fourth place, just 0.236 seconds from pole position, on the day his teammate, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, was just 13 years old.
Such moments reflect the great losers of Ferrari’s past, Gilles Villeneuve and Fernando Alonso. It is only in its third season in Formula 1 that Leclerc is on its way to join them in the pantheon of the Ferrari legends.
It would be incredible, Leclerc said in an exclusive interview with Sport.
I like to do things differently. I always try to do things that people don’t expect, because that makes the sport fun, and you always have to surprise people on the track, otherwise it’s too easy for them.
Sometimes it goes my way, sometimes it doesn’t, and I learn from it, but it’s nice to hear, and I hope so – but I try to concentrate on myself and not think about these things too much.
I am very honest with myself
It’s 2020, so we’re talking on video. So Leclerc is, or personally, an open, friendly person, with a smile that is never so far away. There is a hint of uncertainty, but there is no defect in the steel under the surface.
The same contradiction manifests itself in the Leclerc pilot. He is not a braggart, but he knows how good he is and has extremely high expectations of himself. This explains the random outbursts of anger when he feels abandoned.
Such a case occurred last month at the end of the Turkish Grand Prix.
In the afternoon Lewis Hamilton won his seventh World Championship title thanks to one of his biggest stages on the treacherous and slippery slope, Leclerc was also successful.
After a difficult start Leclerc finished 14th in lap 15. He was in fourth place, 35 seconds behind Vettel, who finished fourth. Twenty-five laps later Leclerc passed his teammate and took a five second lead in the next seven laps.
In the last lap Leclerc passed Perez briefly to finish second, but he was only a bit behind the last chic and slipped forward, allowing Perez and Vettel to push for the last two podiums.
Leclerc was furious when he told his crew on the radio that he had done a bad job – only that the word he used wasn’t bad.
Looking back, he says: It’s probably one of my best performances in the race this year and I know that after the race when I calmed down. But on the other hand, I was so disappointed.
After the first few laps I thought my race was more or less over, but I kept my head down and tried to get the best lap after lap and it seemed to work.
I knew I was one of the fastest riders on the track and that gave me a lot of confidence, and then I got to the last lap where I knew a podium was possible after being second and last in the first corner.
And then to make such a small mistake, which cost so much in a very important moment of the race – ah, I was so annoyed. So at the end of the race I was very dissatisfied with myself, which you can probably hear on the radio.
But on the other hand, as soon as I got out of the car, I realized what I had done, and that doesn’t mean I was completely depressed.
You hear that on the radio, but when I get out of the car, I’m very honest with myself. Every time I do a good job, I know I did it, and I tell myself I did it, but every time I do a bad job, I get angry.
That day I had done a very, very good job before, but a mistake at the wrong time cost us the end result, and that’s the most important thing.
Leclerc this season – second at the Austrian Grand Prix – first race of the season.
Happy people see that I’m doing good Happy people see that I’m doing good Happy people see that I’m doing good
Overall, Leclerc has worn a Ferrari on his back this season.
The team has produced its least competitive car in 30 years. On average he is sixth on the net, but Leclerc is on the podium twice, qualified for fourth place four times and the average position on the net is eighth. He has scored 75% of Ferrari’s points and has surpassed Vettel 12 times so far in 16 races, with an average of 0.354 seconds.
He left the already impressive year 2019 behind him.
In his first season with Ferrari, and only in Formula 1, Leclerc usurped one of the most successful drivers in the history of the team, so much so that the Ferrari decided that Vettel had excessive demands, and even before postponing the start of the season, he was told that his contract would not be renewed.
Leclerc is currently considered one of the top three drivers on the Formula 1 grid, alongside Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Ask Leclerc what it’s like to earn this status and he’ll tell you: That’s great, because at the beginning of the season it was difficult to accept the situation we were in.
I’ve always dreamed of being in a Ferrari to win races and I managed to get through the first year, which was very good. I won my first Formula 1 race, which I had dreamed of since I was a kid, but at the end of the season I was still a little disappointed in myself because I made mistakes last year at some very important moments that I had hoped I wouldn’t make them.
It’s part of the learning curve and that’s why this year I’ve set myself the goal of trying to do better with fewer mistakes than I think I’ve made.
Looking back on the season, I’m very happy with it, but on the other hand, the car wasn’t as good as last year, so unfortunately I couldn’t get as many results and show – how good my season was.
But fortunately people saw that I am doing better than last year, even though the results were not so good. I was very motivated by what people saw in the car.
I am highly motivated when things go wrongI am highly motivated when things go wrong
Leclerc set the tone for his very first race of the season. Ferrari’s fear of a difficult year blossomed in Austria in early July, when Leclerc only managed to finish seventh and Vettel 11 on the grid.
The next day, however, Leclerc took an astonishing second place, keeping the race going thanks to several aggressive passing manoeuvres after the safety car slowed down and taking advantage of the collision between Hamilton’s Alex Albon and Red Bull.
In fact, I’m so motivated when things go wrong, Leclerc says. I’m not the kind of person who feels bad when things go wrong. If it goes wrong, I just think: How can I impress people?
After qualifying it was clear to everyone in the paddock that we were fighting, and there I found my motivation, I said: Okay, everybody knows we’re fighting, but I want to show them that we can do really good.
That was my mentality when we had a tough race, when we were trying to prove people wrong.
In addition to the Ferrari’s lack of direct speed, the car also took a bit of a turn. But this is exactly what enabled Leclerc to demonstrate its quality.
As far as the balance is concerned, we fought backwards, says Leclerc. It was very difficult to trust the car, and trust in F1 is the only thing that counts.
I managed to overcome part of that setback, but we still have a long way to go.
Ask him why Vettel fought so hard and he’ll tell you: That’s a question I don’t know the answer to. After all, some drivers feel more comfortable in the back seat, others in the bends. And this year’s car was probably a little more in line with my driving style.
But also, as Seb has said several times, this year is difficult for him worldwide because he knows that he will not be on the team next year and maybe that will also play a role.
I’m always very hard on myselfI’m always very hard on myself
Leclerc, who signed a contract with Ferrari until 2024, says that in his move he will have his new status as team leader.
I don’t feel any difference from what happened before, he says. I have to do the same job as before. After all, I’m here to give the best of myself on the track and help the team as much as possible when I’m off the track.
I’ve done it before, I’m doing it now. Of course, now that I have a future on the team and they know how long I’ll be with them, my comments will probably carry a little more weight, but it’s not that I haven’t listened before.
It may look a little different from the outside, but I don’t think it’s that different from what happened to me.
This year’s Leclerc showed what people in Formula 1 mean when they say the driver has overtaken his car.
The kick-off in Austria was followed by a series of excellent stages, including third and fourth place in two races at Silverstone with the unusual one-stop-shop strategy, despite the team’s low power.
This has been particularly rewarding on a personal level, as he saw his ability to run as a weakness in 2019 and worked hard through the winter to do better.
It demonstrates the quality that Hamilton and all the great drivers have shown over the years – the ability to be self-critical, the feeling that good is never enough, that there is always room for improvement.
That’s always been my mentality, Leclerc says. It’s still very difficult for me. And that’s not gonna change. But today it is probably more constructive than destructive, as it used to be.
When I was younger, I fought every time I made a mistake. But it wasn’t constructive. I lost a lot of faith, and it wasn’t very good.
But year after year I’ve managed to learn from my mistakes and it seems to work pretty well.
Hamilton and Leclerc won first and third place in the Russian Grand Prix last year.
Hamilton’s admiration and hope for the future
Leclerc and Hamilton have always respected each other and this year they made friends by occasionally playing online computer games with Pierre Gasly Alpha Tauri, Leclerc’s lifelong friend.
Lewis has been great this year, Leclerc says. For me the most impressive achievement this year was Turkey, because no one expected such strength from them.
Everyone expected Lewis to fight and in the end he won the championship by winning there, which shows that people who say it’s just a car are wrong.
Of course he drives the best car, but this kind of performance shows that he’s now the best on the grid, so congratulations to him, and he’s always been at the top so consistently, and that’s something to respect.
The Ferrari this year was too bad a car for Leclerc to repeat some of the battles he had with Hamilton in 2019.
Restrictions on winter development, introduced in connection with the coronavirus pandemic to save money, indicate on paper that Ferrari could experience another difficult year in 2021.
But they are working on a new engine and Leclerc has some hope for a better season.
We shouldn’t have too high expectations, but on the other hand I’m sure it will be better than this year and I really hope so, he says.
We did a good job in the last race to solve our problems and I can see how hard everyone in Maranello is working.
People just go to extremes. And I hear good things. You won’t know until after the first qualifier of the season.
We’re sure we’re doing a good job, but we’d rather not live up to expectations because we don’t know how good other people’s work is.
Day bench game