“We had a strange first half,” reflected Leclerc at the end of the season. “Winter testing was very strong, then the first half was disappointing to where we thought we would have been.
“But then after we progressed really a lot during the summer break, we came back stronger and then we had better pace for the second half of the season. So that was positive.”
Of course all of this has to be seen within the context of it being only Leclerc’s second year in Formula 1 and his first in a front-running car. He made obvious steps which are clear in the data – his run of qualifying successes after the French Grand Prix (the graph below shows how much closer he got to his ‘perfect lap’ from that point), and his superb post-summer break form, which with better luck could have yielded four wins in a row instead of two.
“I’m very happy with my season overall,” said Leclerc. “Happy because there’s been progression from the first race to the last race finishing with a podium.
“Seven pole positions, 10 podiums and two victories, I would have definitely been happy if you have told me I will do that in my first season with Ferrari. So [I’m] happy with this first season but now it’s only a matter of putting everything together next year, doing less mistakes and then hopefully a better 2020.”
Qualifying: Lap time
The lower the lines, the better the driver performed
Pole position in his second race for Ferrari was a clear statement of Leclerc’s abilities. But a crash in Azerbaijan and strategy blunder by Ferrari in Monaco compromised him in a run of six race where Vettel consistently out-qualified him.
Leclerc hit back, starting ahead in the next nine rounds, and scoring more pole positions than any other driver by the end of the season.
“My only objective at the beginning of the year was to progress throughout the season,” he said. “And I think this has been a huge success on my side.
“I’m a different driver compared to where I was [at] first. In the beginning of the season I’ve been struggling in qualifying, struggling also in the races. Now I’m a lot stronger in qualifying, better in the races. There’s still work to do but better in the races.”
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Race: Start versus finish
As Leclerc admits, race pace is a clear area where can improve. It was uncommon for him to make significant gains over his starting positions, except on the occasions where he started out of position.
Sometimes this was due to more questionable Ferrari strategy decisions, such as in Singapore. But there were other times when he couldn’t hold on to strong positions he held early in the races.
“Consistency is extremely important in the championship,” said Leclerc. “If you look at Baku, if you look at Germany, there’s been a few races where I could have done better as a driver.
“[Also] where we could have done better as a team like in Monaco and other places. So there’s been quite a lot of points that I’ve lost personally and that we’ve lost together and on that we need to be better in 2020 to be able to fight for the title.”
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Race: Share of points
Race: Results versus other drivers
Given that Ferrari finished ahead of Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, there’s plenty of reason to believe Leclerc, like Vettel, should have beaten Max Verstappen to third in the points standings. But Leclerc has youth on his side, and every reason to believe he can make greater gains in his second season at the team.
“This was my first year in a top team [and] I’ve learned a huge amount,” he said. “I’ve done a few mistakes which cost quite a bit of points at the end of the season. Normally I always analyse every mistake, I try and get better, not to repeat them twice.
“That’s the exact same I will do for next year to come back stronger, to be more ready and to do less mistakes and be stronger in the season. I’m pretty sure it will only get better.”
Ferrari certainly seem to agree, having handed Leclerc a whopping contract extension last month.
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Race: Reasons for non-classifications
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
2019 F1 season
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