Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2019

“I’ve learned a huge amount… I’m pretty sure it will only get better”

Driver performance analysis: Charles Leclerc

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Did Ferrari really expect Charles Leclerc to do so well so quickly?

He made life hard for his four-times world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel, who he beat on all counts in their first season together: More pole positions, more points, more wins. But it was no less true of Leclerc than Vettel that there are clear areas he needs to work on to raise his game in the 2020 F1 season.

“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

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2019
Leclerc nearly won his second race for Ferrari
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

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2019
Sixth from the front row at Suzuka was a disappointment
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

RaceRetirement
MonacoDamage
GermanyAccident

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2019 F1 season

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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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18 comments on ““I’ve learned a huge amount… I’m pretty sure it will only get better””

  1. We’ve seen this before: a young talent driving a much inferior car starts going places.

    Then he gets a top team seat and… nothing happens. Sometimes he just stays there until “new talent” arrives. Sometimes he gets sacked cold hearted. You want names? Gasly the most recent one, Alesi in the 90’s, Barrichello/Massa at Ferrari, Perez at McLaren, and so on.

    For some reason, be it political, 1st/2nd driver arrangements, psychological or pressure, they didn’t deliver.

    Leclerc has to go through all those things combined at Ferrari, and he still delivered.

    That’s a very good sign in my opinion.

    1. Should be very interesting. Nothing against CL at all, but I think he has much to prove, and fortunately for him he’s going to have ample opportunity to do so with his contract extension. Personally I think he will have a lot more pressure on him this year than last, as now he HAS to confirm what he did last year. Last year it was all new and he was in a no lose situation. Do less well than SV and nobody is really surprised. It’s understandable as the newbie. Do better and it is a bonus. Now this year in a way he ‘must’ do better than SV. And of course he will want to do so and be highly motivated in that regard. But so will SV.

      So it is going to of course be one of the more exciting aspects of this season…CL and SV at Ferrari. First let’s see where the car is amongst the grid. Presumably first or second again. Let’s see how that dynamic affects things on the team. Let’s see how and/or how well they are going to deal with driver status and team orders. I hope there are no orders other than to not touch each other on track. Let them race it out. Let’s see what LH and Max have to say about the two Ferraris…and CL.

      1. Good point regarding the pressure. Last year it was on Vettel’s, this year is going to be all on Leclerc’s shoulder.

        He didn’t crack under Hamilton’s pressure in Italy, neither succumbed to the enormous responsibility in front of the Tifosi. After learning from Austria, he fought Verstappen on equal terms anytime they met on track.

        But I see your point: now the pressure will come from inside the team (and Italian press). The kind of pressure that no other driver could handle so far, besides Schumacher. But he was being shielded by Brawn and Todt…

        1. He didn’t crack under Hamilton’s pressure in Italy

          Technically he did, both by earning a wave of the black-and-white flag for resorting to pushing Hamilton off-track, and when he lost control and cut a corner and gained an advantage, also deemed OK by the stewards, not at all influenced by the thousands of Ferrari fans at Monza.

  2. Sadly for Vettel, I predict a Leclerc slaughter this year.

    1. proud_asturian
      26th January 2020, 13:37

      and we should care about your opinion because?
      keep it to yourself, you know nothing

  3. ”The first of many Leclerc wins?”
    – Either the image should be from Spa-podium instead of the Monza-one, or the image-title should read ‘second’ in place of first.

  4. Based on his best combine sectors he had the pace to beat Vettel in five more qualifyings but for slight errors. It is amazing what he will do with more experience and bit more consistency. I think it will a whitewash next year on poor Vettel.

  5. @keithcollantine great articles like always. Is it possible to make the scales of the graphics more readable on mobile?

  6. where we could have done better as a team like in Monaco

    well in Monaco it was LEC that took off the back of the car underestimating the width of the rear.
    Not a big problem, but one of his weak points: impatience.

    1. Apart from impatience he is far too shortsighted(Monaco and Japan) and far too arrogant(disobeying team orders) going to extent of endangering his on track rivals.

      1. Chaitanya, mind you, many driver you can care to name will have had moments in their career where they’ve also made foolish and short sighted moves, disobeyed team orders or been accused of pulling off moves that have endangered other drivers – it’s not exactly as if Leclerc is unique in that respect.

    2. @seth-space It was the team that caused him to be eliminated in Q1. He was so far down because of their error. On a track where overtaking is pretty much impossible unless they let you go past.

    3. @seth-space I think Charles is referring to qualifying in Monaco, where Ferrari’s strategists apparently took their computer’s prediction that only one run would be required from Charles in Q1 too seriously. (Charles queried it at the time, according to the radio transcripts, so short of leaving the pits when it hadn’t got the correct set of tyres on – an state that might have rendered such disobedience pointless – there wasn’t much of anything he personally could have done about it). The resulting P16 led to Charles stating that he would need to take a lot of risks in order to score any points. Perhaps we should not be surprised that he did as promised, nor that doing so backfired (because doing 100% of the post-lap-1 overtaking is more impressive if there’s a finish at the end).

      Of course, he might still have had an argument with another car in the race regardless of how qualifying proceeded – but as he’d referred to some of the other errors he’d made earlier in the sentence, he might not have seen much point belabouring this.

  7. Well, as even Sainz is rated better than Leclerc there is obviously a lot to improve.

  8. 2020 will be very interesting, I think.

    Their relative competitiveness (to each other); or rather should I say… Vettel’s relative competitiveness – fluctuated through the year, in what I saw as 3 phases. The first trimester, Lec was anywhere from slightly slower than, to equal speed, as Seb. Then there was that middle patch when Lec smashed Vettel on pace. Before the final term when after the Singapore update Vettel was often quicker, with a few blots of races where Lec was quicker.

    I think from there (discounting the first trimester as Lec being new to a top team experience) – the middle patch really highlighted how much the car doesn’t suit Seb, until the Singapore update redressed the car balance slightly more towards a direction favorable to Seb.

    With the 2020 car reportedly being built in a more downforce-y direction, which would appear on the surface to suit Vettel more – and Binotto openly saying the 2020 car will be built more to cater to Vettel’s driving requirements – will be interesting to see if Lec can stay ahead of Vet on pace. As we saw in the first Singapore Q3 runs, or in Suzuka Q3 – in those random times Seb is happy with the car, he is still quite the killer on pace.

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