Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monza, 2019

2019 F1 driver rankings #4: Charles Leclerc

2019 F1 season review

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It is incredibly rare for Ferrari to give young talents like Charles Leclerc the chance to drive for them after just one season in Formula 1.

By the end of the year, no one could seriously doubt they had made the right decision. Though Sebastian Vettel, the four-times world champion who Leclerc thoroughly showed up during the course of 2019, may wish they hadn’t.

Ferrari began the year insisting Vettel was their lead driver and would be given preferential treatment in the case of any “50-50 situations” between the two. They may well have thought that was a situation which would not come up very often while Leclerc got his feet under the table. If so, that swiftly proved a misjudgement.

At the end of their very first race as team mates Leclerc reeled in Vettel, who had over-exerted his tyres. Leclerc, tellingly, asked the team if he was allowed to pass Vettel. Such was his speed advantage at this point it probably wouldn’t have been much of a fight, but he was told to stay put and obeyed.

The tension between two red cars vying for the same piece of track was replayed throughout the season, and the changing outcomes told a story. At the next round in Bahrain early in the race the team again told Leclerc to hold position behind Vettel, though only for a couple of laps. He didn’t waste any time, shot past his team mate and would have won his second start for the team if his power unit hadn’t faltered.

In China he was told to let Vettel through; he did, but the benefit was questionable. Later in the season when the time came for Vettel to yield to Leclerc, he wasn’t having any of it. Then in Brazil, Leclerc put a superb pass on Vettel, only for his team mate to come back and squeeze him until, inevitably, contact was made.

It was abundantly clear that Leclerc’s rise to prominence within Ferrari had rattled Vettel. The newcomer out-scored his team mate despite Ferrari squandering a litany of his opportunities, whether in Bahrain, Monaco (strategy error in qualifying), Mexico (strategy error in the race) or Singapore (another questionable strategy call).

Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Singapore, 2019
Leclerc was robbed in Singapore – by his own team
In Singapore, Ferrari’s strategy swapped the running order of their drivers. This stood in sharp contrast to Mercedes’ actions in the same race, who went to considerable lengths to avoid inadvertently favouring one team mate through the timing of their pit stops. Did Ferrari’s decision reflect Leclerc’s inferior status at the team? Or was this payback for Leclerc failing to give Vettel the benefit of his slipstream as instructed to in Q3 at Monza?

Internal politicking aside, Leclerc’s improvements as a driver during 2019 were indisputable. He had been flying in Baku until he smashed his car up in Q2, which prompted a period of self-reflection from which he emerged with a fresh approach to qualifying, and duly out-qualified Vettel for nine races in a row (aided on two occasions by technical problems on Vettel’s car).

Similarly, after the summer break Leclerc raised his game in the races. Having thrown away a good result by crashing in Germany, and been overtaken by Vettel in Hungary, he finally delivered his long-threatened breakthrough.

Charles Leclerc

Beat team mate in qualifying11/20
Beat team mate in race7/17
Races finished18/21
Laps spent ahead of team mate571/1078
Qualifying margin-0.07s

It came courtesy of a classy performance on a horrible weekend for the championship at Spa. On the day after a crash claimed the life of his friend Anthoine Hubert, Leclerc saw off a late threat from Hamilton to become a grand prix winner.

He triumphed again under even fiercer pressure at Monza, showing real mettle in his wheel-to-wheel fight with Hamilton, the kind which might have helped him win in Austria, where he was mugged by Max Verstappen late in the race (the pair later sparred thrillingly at Silverstone). With better luck, Spa and Monza would have been the beginning of a four-race sweep of wins including Singapore and Russia – an unfortunately-timed Safety Car period cost him victory to Hamilton in Sochi.

Vettel put him under greater pressure over the following races, and at Suzuka Leclerc blundered, tipping Verstappen into a spin and spoiling his race. He led in Mexico, but Ferrari’s hasty call to put him on a two-stop strategy dropped him off the podium. He put one over Vettel in the season finale, cementing his place as the top Ferrari driver in the championships.

But for missed opportunities by the team and driver, Leclerc could have ended the year even higher up. Ferrari have good reason to be excited about what he could achieve next year.

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Over to you

What’s your verdict on Charles Leclerc’s 2019 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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42 comments on “2019 F1 driver rankings #4: Charles Leclerc”

  1. Ranking Leclerc below Sainz is crazy. Beating a 4 times champion, and the legendary Monza race win not good enough against someone who couldn’t really outqualify a rookie?

    1. Brazil opening lap swiping his car onto Norris, Hungary similarly driving over on front wing of Bottas, Germany crash, Baku qualifying crash, Monaco crash during race, Monza dirty defense during race and qualifying stitch up of his teammate, Japan ignoring team orders for an unsafe car…. these are apart from his petulance on team radio.

      1. It must hurt somewhere very deep if you memorise, or keep track of, all these mistake instances :P

        1. @coldfly
          Or, opposed to your average clueless fan (those taking liitle jabs), it’s having a proper brain capable of remembering……

        2. ColdFly, are you trying to say that remembering a bunch of highly-covered news (which we all gobbled up and commented on when it happened) must be influenced by psychological trauma?

          Eh, you’re probably right. We’re all a little crazy for being petrolheads.

      2. Japan opening lap, bumping Max off track. So, yes this year was not good. But the potential is clearly there. Other fresh drivers had similar mistakes in the beginning of their career (Lewis, Seb, Max all did the same, nut people easily forget when in search of a stick..)

    2. Hot take: If ‘experience does not Matter’ he’s actually too high.

      1. @mrboerns

        I guess Keith tries to leave it out, but I’ve been thinking expectations really do matter, I see they matter to commenters, so it would be good to discuss them.

        Consider Vettel in particular. I think he could have been even lower, because he was expected and paid to lead Ferrari but instead caused them grief. I think he was do bad he might have lost his seat if Ferrari had a great option.

        So maybe Leclerc should be lower, but he had a great year by beating Vettel and earning a new contract.

    3. Did Sainz do a better job at McLaren than Leclerc did at Ferrari, I think yes.
      The only frame of reference was Vettel for Charles and we know Ricciardo was trashing him in 2014…sure Sainz could not outperform Dan…but in terms of consistency Sainz had a much better season and I wonder what he could have done in a Ferrari.

      Objectively Charles pace was impressive, but overall it was ‘just’ 11-9…he was only just ahead of Vettel.
      Would Charles have driven a mediocre car than we wouldn’t have seen him in the top 10, he was beaten by a driver in a lesser car after all.

      1. Just remember how Sainz performer against Hulk in Renault.
        So, I think it’s not a great idea to relate Leclerc season against Vettel to what happened in Red Bull between the german and the aussie.
        That said, Sainz was less fast than a rookie and had by far the best of the test car. He delivered, but is not champion material. Leclerc is champion material and was able to fight with Ham and Ver in his first year in Ferrari and his second year in F1. How many drivers in f1 could do this?

        1. I remember that clearly and would rather have Charles in my team than Sainz…doesn’t take away Sainz had way better consistency and looked the more experienced driver.

          It leaves us guessing what Sainz could do the Vettel…or for that matter Hulkenberg…

    4. Beating Vettel is really not that impressive methinks

    5. Dutchguy (@justarandomdutchguy)
      23rd December 2019, 10:46

      a 4 times champion but also a real champ at dropping the ball under pressure. Vettel doesn’t seem to be the same as he was in 2010-13.

    6. General consensus is that Sainz had a better season than either Ferrari driver, and some even go as far as to say he had a better season than Verstappen or Hamilton. I don’t agree with the latter, but it’s a telling fact that nobody says Leclerc had a better season than Verstappen or Hamilton. Sainz has fully earned a top 3 classification in every driver performance ranking by anyone this year.

    7. @balue

      I completely agree with you. While I do rate Sainz’s 2019 campaign highly, I still don’t think he was as good as Keith is making him out to be.

      I simply ask myself whether Sainz would have been able to put it on pole position more than any other driver on the grid, and smash a 4 time WDC throughout the season if he was in that Ferrari? Heck, Sainz couldn’t even out qualify Norris. I seriously doubt Sainz would be able to pull off the kind of performance Leclerc did in 2019. Sainz might have made fewer mistakes than Leclerc… but his raw pace and peak performance levels would never be as high as Charles’.

      I would have put Sainz at #5 … and Norris at #7… because I genuinely didn’t think there was much to choose between those drivers.

      1. @todfod Exactly. The expectations at Ferrari would make most buckle at the knees, yet on his first try he was able to deliver pole positions, beat an embedded great, and deliver legendary races under immense pressure like on Ferrari’s home track Monza.

        Sainz had the expectations of getting a dog of a car to the finish and beating a rookie which he couldn’t qualify faster than. Had Alonso still been at McLaren, he would in all likelyhood have wiped the floor with Sainz as he did with Vandoorne and no one would have ever talked about Sainz again, yet here is viewed better than the new star of F1.

      2. @todfod, to be fair, it has been pointed out that the qualifying statistic is a little misleading as Sainz was hit by technical issues and grid penalties. The Austrian GP is one example of that – because Sainz was going to start from the back of the grid, he only made sure to set a time in Q1 that was within the 107% mark, and then didn’t bother setting a competitive time in Q2.

        Technically, Norris is recorded as outqualifying Sainz in that race because Sainz did participate in qualifying – however, you can argue whether that really should count given Sainz wasn’t really trying to set a competitive time and was even being used to help Norris progress by giving him a useful slipstream in Q2.

        I believe that Motorsport Magazine had undertaken their own review of the drivers and they have pointed out that, when you take into account grid penalties and technical issues for both McLaren drivers, the qualifying battle actually works out in Sainz’s favour.

        1. @anon

          Sainz did have a couple of hampered qualifying sessions, but that doesn’t mean that he would have out qualified Norris on those occasions either. Norris did look like the more impressive qualifier throughout the season, although it was close between them. Even if it was Sainz who would have finished 11 to 10 ahead of Norris, Norris would still have my respect as he was in his first F1 season, and was quicker than Sainz straight out of the box.

          We’re also not taking in to consideration the amount of bad luck Norris had in races. He was on for best of the rest in Canada and Spa, and had to retire through no fault of his own. To have Sainz at #3 and Norris at #8 seems like a sham to me.. there really wasn’t much to choose between them all season.

    8. @balue you are a sane men where media seem to be all so blind. It is kind of obvious, Sainz has, seemingly performed at a top 10 of the season level, surely not a top driver, being average has been mistake by a good job.
      Rb who by the way might know a thing or 2 about being succesful in f1 let Sainz go, they are wrong, sure. a guy that has no place in F1 not only thrashed this driver in Q was also often over 20s ahead on race pace, is wrong and finally a team with a rookie and no other deivers to choose from after being a top 15th team the previous year can only show that the media really does know f1 well…

  2. Seems like a podium for Mr. Smooth Operator !!

  3. For me, the Silverstone scrap between Charles and Max was one of the most memorable bits of the season. Will be exciting to see more of that between them (and hopefully Sainz gets there in the mix) in future seasons or after the “old” guard retires.

  4. Didn’t expect Leclerc behind Sainz.
    If I had to pick a driver for my team purely on this year’s performance, then it would always be Leclerc over Sainz. I think Sainz got a bit flattered by the F1.25 McLaren.
    But notwithstanding that Sainz had a very solid year and has matured in a strong driver for years to come.

    PS – If Sainz is to 3 then Norris must be stellar; not necessarily this year’s ranking but surely his potential.

  5. 2019 has been a year that provided an important insight into the ability of Charles as an F1 athlete. His relative performance against an in-form multi-WDC team mate is the counterfactual needed when we see him winning serially in the future. Him over-powering Vettel in the team mate battle is the argument we can use when people simplistically attribute his wins in the future to “the car”. Vettel’s form guide for 2019? He was the credible championship challenger the two previous seasons.
    The same counterfactual insights were also provided by Ricciardo in 2014 (against Vettel) and by Hamilton in 2007 (against Alonso). I’m still waiting for a similar insight from Max.

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      23rd December 2019, 13:08

      He was two and a half seasons alongside Ricciardo.

  6. Well. :D Rankings are subjective, I’ll let it slide.

    For me Leclerc was the most fun driver of 2019. Given F1 is a show not really that much of a sport, I’d rank him #1.

    If we do want to continue this pretense, then he did many fun mistakes, messed up many times, in comparison Hamilton, Verstappen had much better season.

    Seinz? Not so sure about that, it is easy to say he did less mistakes, was best of the rest, hence Formula 1.1 champion, but he was also not fighting for victories, not under pressure Leclerc was under. Both Hamilton and Verstappen had teams built around them in stable environment.

    Leclerc was a disruptor to the incumbent Vettel. Arguably did a fantastic job, considering where he was, what kind of drama evolved around him.

    But as I said at start rankings are subjective.

    1. Agree, excepting the fantastic job part. I mean, there was quite some hype around him (and on merit!) before joining Ferrari, and given the age advantage too, I expected him to be more of a problem to VET from the get-go. Personally, I was a little bit disapointed by his performances from the 1st half of the season.

  7. I’d pick Leclerc over Sainz. Leclerc had real fierce races with the top dogs for several laps, didn’t slip and came on top several times.

    Beating Vettel says little. It became an Olympic sport in the last years.

  8. Leclerc has just been confirmed on a long term contract until 2024.

  9. Well, I’ll try and get a link, but Ferrari have just announced that they’ve signed a five year contract for Leclerc, so they are definitely impressed with his performance this year.

    1. Straight to the source.

  10. Okay, can’t get link to work, but it’s right there on Ferrari’s twitter feed. I’m tired and drunk.

  11. Ferrari began the year insisting Vettel was their lead driver and would be given preferential treatment in the case of any “50-50 situations” between the two.

    Don’t know if this kind of situation really ever occured. Plus, some imply favouritism even when it’s not the case, making a proper judgement in 50-50 situation is even less likely. Some say VET was favoured in Australia… given that LEC seemed to be faster in the final part of the race and he didn’t agree to let him in front. Where did the racing part disappeared, is this rallying somehow?! Also, how come Mercedes didn’t tell HAM to let BOT in front (without a fight) in USA since BOT was faster?! Nobody said that Mercedes favoured HAM, really ”weird” that normality in that case was to let them race and the faster&better racer win the race. Not in the case of poor VET, whenever LEC was behind and faster, the conclusion was that he was favoured by the team. Ridiculous….

    1. If you don’t understand the difference in having the victory on the line to save your championship chances and a mere 4th place in the first race of the season, there’s no point in arguing.

      1. Oh, but I understand! So, if it’s a mere 4th place, nothing important… why give up the place without fight?! Also, sorry for not understanding double standards.

  12. LOL, whats all this with Sainz? Not making mistakes makes you a top 3 driver of the season? Me thinks that alongside Hülkenberg he would have been outclassed again.

  13. This read is more exciting than an actual race.
    Right from the start, it is evolving quickly, easy to get up and grab a coffee, no shortage of bumping with a good dose of cut and thrust. Not much for strategy flubs, but wait, Ferrari will be in it shortly. 5 years, what are they thinking.?
    If the racing in 2020 is half as good as this, gonna be a GREAT year.
    Thanks to all and to all best wishes for the season.

  14. Sainz is 3rd…. The earth is flat then.

  15. Ferrari have good reason to be excited about what he could achieve next year.

    And more important – WE have good reason to be excited about on what Ferrari the on-board camera will be painted yellow next year!

  16. ConsiderateScreen
    24th December 2019, 7:34

    In Singapore, Ferrari’s strategy swapped the running order of their drivers. This stood in sharp contrast to Mercedes’ actions in the same race, who went to considerable lengths to avoid inadvertently favouring one team mate through the timing of their pit stops.

    No, this is completely untrue. Bottas was asked to slow down a lot.

  17. Roberto Giacometti
    25th December 2019, 1:32

    Only 4th?????

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