Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2020

2020 F1 driver rankings #3: Charles Leclerc

2020 F1 season review

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On the face of Charles Leclerc’s two podium finishes – a second and a third – constitute a meagre return for a Ferrari driver by their prior standards. But not by the standards of Ferrari in 2020, when they produced their worst car for decades.

Judged against his four-times world champion team mate, Leclerc’s performance shines incredibly brightly. By the end of the season he was one point shy of scoring three times as many points as his team mate. And it’s not as if Vettel lost a string of finishes to misfortune.

How did Leclerc do it? First, with a conclusive superiority in qualifying which saw him beat Vettel 13-4 on Saturdays. Leclerc regularly qualified in excess of four-tenths of a second quicker in like-for-like sessions, discounting any track evolution advantage he may have gained by reaching Q3 on 11 occasions to Vettel’s three.

There were times when Leclerc qualified the Ferrari far in excess of where it belonged. He lined up fourth at Silverstone, the Nurburgring, Algarve and Bahrain. At times he even conspired to drag his Ferrari through Q2 on harder tyres while Vettel couldn’t do the same on softs.

Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Second in Austria was way beyond what Ferrari deserved
The SF100 was never capable of finishing a race as high on merit. That meant Leclerc typically slipped back from these high starting positions. He bagged second place in the season-opening round – a result which looked more outstanding with every subsequent race – thanks to a well-timed Safety Car period, some great passes and other drivers running into trouble.

Third in the British Grand Prix also came courtesy of some good fortune, though he brilliantly reached Q3 on medium tyres, giving him a valuable strategic advantage. Silverstone was good to him: At the second race a week later he managed his tyres superbly and one-stopped to fourth.

This was followed by a three-race barren spell: His power unit failed in Spain, and Ferrari’s poor straight-line speed left them nowhere at Spa and Monza. After that he was never out of the points again until the final two races of the season.

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He was perhaps fortunate to come away with sixth at Sochi after dodging an investigation for knocking Lance Stroll out of the race on the first lap. But fourth place at Algarve came his way courtesy of what was arguably the qualifying lap of the year to reach Q3 again on medium tyres.

Charles Leclerc

Beat team mate in qualifying13/17
Beat team mate in race10/13
Races finished13/17
Laps spent ahead of team mate585/800
Qualifying margin-0.41s
Points98

Leclerc finished in the top five again at the next two races, Imola and Istanbul. A better result was possible at the latter, where he ran wide on the final lap while trying to pass Sergio Perez for second place, and slipping to fourth as a result. Characteristically, notwithstanding his superior pace compared to Vettel up to that point, Leclerc was beside himself with rage at letting such an opportunity pass him by.

There were times when Leclerc let his desperation to bag a result get the better of him. By his own admission he took excessive risks at the start on occasions, notably in the penultimate round where he compromised Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen’s races, and most unfortunately in the second race where the victim was his own team mate.

But while on that single occasion Leclerc carried the can for ruining his team’s race, the rest of the time he was usually their only driver who was not only capable of scoring regularly, but finishing in the top half of the top 10. Under the circumstances, that was remarkable.

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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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84 comments on “2020 F1 driver rankings #3: Charles Leclerc”

  1. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Ferrari man and I support and will keep supporting Charles with all I have, but I just don’t feel this was his best year in F1. He did get out of the car things few others would have managed to get, but there were also mistakes. Sure, he was not fighting for the title, but these need to be cleared out before he becomes a true contender (once Ferrari gives him the machinery). Max did very well in that regard this year – realistically he wasn’t fighting for the title either, but he managed to eliminate these kind of mistakes and was consistently third which paid off with a second place at times.

    1. Hey, mate. Nice analysis. But remember to take into account the “midfield versus frontrunning” factor.

      The top 4 (or 6, it depends) is, mathematically, a safer environment to be in. Less cars, less tangles, less acidents. Plus the fact that, if one is running in front, he is one of the title contenders or, at least, he’s close to them, who rather play safe to avoid losing everything at lap 1 and restarts. The midfield, on the other hand, is pure carnage, as we’ve seen in 2019 and 2020.

      Do you remember the circumstances in which Leclerc crashed in 2019? Q2 in Baku (wall), Q1 in Hungary (wall), (wall) wet race in Germany (wall) and Monaco (tangle with Hulkenberg). In other words, when did he crashed into another driver? When he was in the midfield, after a bad quali. All blame on him, of course. But the “midfield environment” is ruthless. Time will tell.

      But he’s still young and have only 3 full seasons. Remember of Verstappen in 2018, when he had 3 full seasons: Crashed into Vettel in China while Ricciardo won, crashed in Monaco FP3 while Ricciardo got pole and won, crashed with Ricciardo in Baku after moving under braking. Nickname? Crashtappen. And he improved.

    2. That’s well said @jjlehto, I do feel third in this ranking is a bit high and the article seems to somewhat play down his errors, which were quite notable errors that in a normal year for the team would probably have gathered a lot more negative attention. Still, can’t say it’s really wrong, because he did show a lot too. Let’s see if this year against Sainz he can learn from his teammate’s consistency and calm down a bit to iron out the negatives.

    3. THere were errors, but it’s easy not to make them when you have a good and stable car. It’s much more complicated when you have a bad one, and you basically have to go in “Beserk” mode all the time to have a chance to score well. This raking is subjective for sure, but I really don’t think we can fall on Leclerc for the mistakes looking at the context. He (barely) saved Ferrari’s honor single handled.

      1. @HAL Agree. Counting errors is unfair for the reasons you say.

    4. “was consistently third which paid off with a second place at times.”

      Max in fact finished withing the top 2 eight times and just three times in 3rd, once 6th.
      He maximized the car’s potential the best of all drivers, including Hamilton.

      Im Charles 2019 was as roughas his 2020 season, crashing a lot and crashing ito other’s a lot, yet stil I feel his 3rd place i the overall ranking is justified… He is fast, really fast.

    5. How many years Verstappen in F1? 7 years! Since 2015 to 2018, he did several mistakes like Leclerc until he got special nickname from all of us ‘CRUSHTAPPEN’. WHY? Because he hit barrier and hit rivals cars often. People defend his silly mistakes by keep saying,”He is younger, less experience, let he learn from his mistakes.” And he got right car that made for him in 2019-2020, so his 2nd drivers always struggling because it wasn’t ‘their car’ and again fans who adore Car performance chanting in anywhere,”Max crushing them all.” Do you think Max will perform well if he drive SF1000? Vettel is 4th times Champion that Red Bull made and Leclerc beat him in inferior complicated car in 2020. If Red Bull champion found their hell in Ferrari car, i believe your Max will doing the same thing like Vettel. That is the reason he and his father want Mercedes, right? Because easily winning with GREAT CAR! If he perform well ONLY IF THE CAR is suitable with his driving style and great car, is that your great category, eh?

      Reply moderated
  2. Yes, he did make quite a lot of mistakes this year. But what this season showed me is that Leclerc is an absolute freak in how quick he is. One thing is for sure, once this Hamilton era ends, we’ll have no shortage of generational talents in F1 with Max and Charles. Once they both mature some more and gain some more experience, they’ll be among the best ever I predict.

    1. Agree on the talent part, but struggle to see his 2020 overall performance as 3rd best.
      Also this article seems to hang the rating a lot on the quali results.

      1. Also this article seems to hang the rating a lot on the quali results.

        If that was the case, then Norris should have been ranked ahead of Sainz. I fail to see any real pattern or solid logic in the ratings this year. I also agree that Leclerc is a little higher than he should be despite moments of brilliance. I would rate him at a generous #4 .. behind Ricciardo at #3.. but slightly ahead of Gasly at #5.

    2. @mashiat In theory yes I agree. But if Mercedes continue it will likely all be academic. It will then probably be Russell and talents of their generation Verstappen and Leclerc will stand with nothing.

      1. @balue Mercedes’ dominance will continue for the foreseeable future, but I doubt it will last forever. Both Leclerc and Max are 22, their time will come. Hamilton didn’t win his 2nd world title until he was 29, and he is now set to lift his 8th this season. They are unlikely to ever experience an era quite like the Hamilton-Mercedes era, but they’ll win multiple titles I’m certain. Let’s not forget that it’s not as if they have lifetime contracts with their teams either; the whoever the best teams are will snap them up.

    3. Max and Charles have already shown they can go wheel to wheel with Lewis and win. The bigger issue I think is getting cars under them that can challenge for the title.

      1. Agree, it’s all about the car, give them an equal car and I wouldn’t bet against a verstappen, or in a while even a leclerc title.

  3. Umm… someone made a car go faster than it’s capable of? I don’t think so

    1. He did give his 200% though.

      1. Not enough. 1000% is the new 100%

        1. He drove so fast that he dropped that last 0 on The SF100

    2. @the-edge You always get comments like this. People need to understand the speech is figurative, not literal. Saying someone outdrove the car means that they achieved more from that car than what you would expect the average driver would have done. Not that they quite literally drove a car beyond it’s physical limits and defied science as we know it.

      1. Another possible sense of overdriving a car is driving it too fast to be able to control it. Which is perfectly possible, but usually ends badly

  4. A tad generous.

    But thanks for reminding that several of his Q1 and Q2 qualifyings were on harder tyres than Seb. Makes his qualifying performance look even more remarkable.

  5. There is no doubt that Charles Leclerc is an extremely quick driver, he has proved it in different occasions/machineries in his short F1 career and in 2020, he showcased his talent under difficult circumstances.

    Being ranked in the top 3 is slightly overvaluing his 2020 campaign,as there wasn’t aby benchmark inside the team. Sebastian Vettel appeared demotivated, having lost a lot of confidence in the team after the end of 2019 and the contract situation,plus never managed to alter his driving style to the SF1000 characteristics.

    Ferrari had a similar situation again in the past, notably in 2012, when Massa was nowhere in the first half of the season and Alonso was thriving. Massa managed to sort himself in the second half and match Alonso in a lot of races, something that Vettel didn’t manage to do.

    Leclerc had some amazing weekends,like in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix & Portimao, when he managed to outpace every opponent with ease,but the costly mistakes he did in Styria, Bahrain Outer, Monza are way too important to be ignored. He didn’t just take himself out of the race,he caused a big crash for another competitor as well( Vettel and Verstappen-Perez).

  6. Leclerc gets far too much credit for a not so bad Ferrari – yes he did far better than Vettel but that says more about Vettel than about Leclerc.

    If you look at the number of (foolish) mistakes made he certainly doesn’t deserve top 3 nor even top 5.

    1. Well this ranking is subjective, for sure. But it’s always easy to look good when all is fine, much more complicated when nothing goes well. In that aspect, Leclerc was amazing ; he kept coming with strong result the whole year and was the only Ferrari-powered car to do so. Sure the Haas and Sauber were bad car too, but just looking at the super weak straighline of all Ferrari-powered cars, Leclerc really had to go super aggressive to qualify so well. I races he felt back often, but was still much faster and was able to manage the tire quite well…

      There were some mistake, but when you are pushing everything 100% and have to go Beserk all the time to score, that logical. I’m however with you on the fact that clearly Vettel had a bad year and that helped a bit Charles to look the hero

      So I don’t think the top 3 is wrong, albeit debatable. Not even a top 5 ? I disagree…

  7. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    3rd February 2021, 8:36

    The overachieving results he got from that car often reminded me of 2010/2012 Fernando at times. Particularly the first half of the season. Then there were a few mistakes that crept in, still young and easily done when pushing a car so far beyond its natural position on the grid. I’ll agree with third for Charles.

  8. I never doubted Leclerc’s speed, as he’s showed time and time again in junior categories and in earlier season in F1, but this season we’re placing him so high just because the car seemed horrible. But we actually don’t know if the car was that bad. We can only say the car was atrocious because of Vettel’s performance.

    But that could also be said of RedBull: was the RBR 2020 a dismal car because Albon couldn’t drive it? What if the Ferrari was actually a decent racecar but didn’t suit Vettel at all? Would we still place Charles so high on the scale, given how many errors he made this season, if he had a teammate extracting similar performance to him?

    1. I suggest you check out The Race’s channel for a good video on Verstappen and why this argument holds so little weight.

      Yes, Leclerc is better at adapting to poor machinery. Yes, the Ferrari was a steaming pile of you-know-what. And yes, Leclerc showed some absolute brilliance this season and elevated a lower midfield car to the top of said midfield. Yes, the RBR was a really poor handling car for a lot of the first half of the season, they ultimately fixed it, but that doesn’t change that it was a botched design for a good while there.

      Now as for Leclerc’s errors, I think people are way harsher on him than they have to be. We saw it in years prior with Verstappen, too. Young drivers sometimes make bad calls, this is a thing that happens and will happen next year when Russell gets the call up as well (as we saw this year when he wrecked his Williams behind the SC, I suppose). Does that mean they aren’t brilliant? Of course not, it just means they lack experience and with that: patience and insight. That kind of stuff will ultimately correct itself and is, I’d say, a necessary evil. It doesn’t take away from the, quite frankly, astonishing drives and pace Leclerc extracted from that car this season, imo.

      1. @aiii

        We’re not ranking talent or (mere) brilliance though, but how well the driver performed.

        1. Indeed @aapje, @aiii, as with Verstappen who’s talent also never was in doubt, and who showed plenty of it in his first years, but also some notable errors, Leclerc did make several costly errors, not just to him, but to others, and that does make 3rd in the ranking look generous.

          I do think Leclerc can iron out those mistakes (maybe learn from Sainz’ consistency this season?), just like Verstappen got better with experience, and then we can hopefully some time see those two fight it on the edge for wins and a championship, but Leclerc is not yet there (though neither is Red Bull, nor Ferrari, I suspect).

      2. I think you misunderstood what I was saying. My point was that Leclerc is so high on the list (despite his costly mistakes) solely because everyone thinks the Ferrari was abysmal and they compare Leclerc’s performance too much to Vettel’s. I know we can not rate a driver in a vacuum, but when the other driver has an atrocious season, the other one might be praised too much in my opinion.

        Let’s say, hypotethically, that Max couldn’t drive for RedBull this last season, and their lineup would be Gasly + Albon. Neither of them probably couldn’t get the car comfortably in the top 6, with the rare exception when Gasly, let’s say, finished on the podium. Would Gasly be ranked 3rd on this list solely because the car was considered abysmal? How would he fared given the same performances if Max was his teammate and proved the car was actually second-best?

        1. You’re making a good point, which explains why no one is answering it directly…

          Indeed, I think the ferrari wasn’t so bad and that might’ve overrated leclerc’s performance, cause even as a non-vettel fan at all I can see clearly this can’t be the level of performance he had in his red bull years, he was always mistake prone but was fast, which he completely lacked this season.

          Even so I would think leclerc should be in the top 5, but indeed, besides vettel it’s hard to compare with other drivers.

  9. I bet he’s still obsessed with giving Max “Karma for Austria”. Just look at Japan 2019 and Sakhir 2020 all over again.

  10. Sainz will get smashed by Leclerc.

    We know Hamilton will be number one despite the substitute driver beating his teammate, and Verstappen many times beating said teammate despite a massive car disadvantage.

    As seen with Bottas ahead of Russell, Hamilton ahead of Verstappen, too much weighting given to winning races in one of the most dominant cars of all time.

    Russell would have won a dozen races this year in the Merc.

    1. What is wrong with you? Why must everything devolve into ‘I hate Hamilton’ when nobody was talking about him? What is with the disturbing obsession you have with hating him?

      What really motivated your hatred? Nationalistic hatred – you have previously put it on record that you dislike British people? Or is it something else?

      1. You’re unbelievable just making things up about me again.

        1. You’re behaving like you’re an Impostor. I’m voting you off.

    2. NO come on there were 18 races, Russell would have beaten Lewis every time and Lewis would’ve come out and said, listen to Dean F, for he is right, I am lucky and rubbish. I owe everything to pure chance and I am now going to hand over my car to Lance Stroll, who is equally lucky and will accidentally win 8 WDC’s, so better than me also.

    3. The article is about Leclerc numbnuts.

      Cute how Hamilton lives in your thick head rent free though.

      He made no mistakes, of course he will be number one. Verstappen made a fair few, funniest was booting it directly into a tyre barrier instead of lifting at the start one time.

    4. You’re gonna be “Going, going, gone” by now!

  11. Last year we knew Leclerc was fast in a good car, but now we know he’s fast in a bad car, so I feel his 2020 campaign has demonstrated he is truly elite. Of the current grid only Alonso and Verstappen have shown they can get amazing results in awful cars. (Assuming that the 2020 RB being very difficult to drive is what caused Albon such grief, which is probably not the whole story.) Even Hamilton hasn’t shown he can do this – not knocking Lewis, he likely could, but hasn’t been in such a bad car ever.

    1. Yes, it’d be interesting to see if hamilton can do it, I feel like when in the early part of 2009 he was given a subpar mclaren he did good things, but half a season is nothing compared to other great drivers, who had to deal with a bad car for several years. Schumacher was also notable in this category, one of the best features alonso has in common with schumacher is indeed the ability to extract the most from a bad car.

  12. I think Charles’ performance has been flattered considerably by Seb’s – A driver we’ve all seen struggle in a car that isn’t to his liking (he’s a Button/Kimi kinda driver, rather than a Lewis/Alonso who can adapt quickly), compounded by just being a BAD year generally for his headspace and motivation.

    Look at the 2019 results – both regularly on the podium, both got wins, both were well clear of the mid-field… Heck, Seb actually had more 2nd places. You don’t go from that level of competition to finishing 5 places apart in the WDC in the space of a year without there being both internal and external circumstances…

    1. @joeypropane – Everyone seems to have accepted that a driver who won multiple championships is suddenly one of the slowest on the grid…. I’m not convinced the Ferrari this year wasn’t just a terrible car and that a midfield driver would have had similar results to Vettel. Perhaps Leclerc was only miles ahead because he put in a Verstappen-level performance?

      1. @petebaldwin

        It’s just not realistic to think that any driver is that much better than a top-level Vettel. Also, we’ve seen slumps from Vettel in the past.

        1. @aapje Oh it’s definitely a slump from Vettel – no doubt about it. I just don’t think he’s slumped as far as some seem to think. I think he’s gone from being just outside of the top tier of drivers (4th or 5th fastest) to somewhere in the middle.

          The rankings this year have him 19th which doesn’t make a lot of sense in conjunction with Leclerc being 3rd. Either the car is really bad which justifies Leclerc being in 3rd but gives a reason for Vettel (a slower driver this year than Leclerc) finishing behind him or the car was actually pretty good in which case Vettel’s finishing positions mean the 19th is deserved but Leclerc should have got more out of the car whilst making fewer mistakes and 3rd is a bit OTT.

          I personally believe the car wasn’t very good and that Leclerc had to drive the car right at it’s limit to get the results he did which explains the mistakes. If you’re going at 80% like Hamilton (not a dig – why push harder if you win easily anyway), you’ll sometimes accidentally push too hard and take 82% out of the car but it makes little difference. If you’re pushing the car to 100% and accidentally push a bit harder, you’ll push the car past it’s limit and go off.

          1. @petebaldwin

            I lean more to considering 3rd for Leclerc to be over the top. I think that Ricciardo should be ahead, at least.

          2. @petebaldwin True. I think Leclerc had an incredibly strong season. That Ferrari was hard to drive (it was a little unpredictable) and under-powered, no wonder even a 4-times world champion struggled to even score points with it in most races. Yet Leclerc scored two podiums and three fourth places. This year will be interesting, when Leclerc is paired with Sainz. If they’re evenly matched, then Vettel’s 2020 season was just horrible. If Leclerc comes out on top, then we know he indeed is incredibly good.

  13. That Algarve qually lap was probably up there with Lewis’ in Singapore 2018. Just an impossible result. Maybe if he’d won the last race but done little before, some people would be arguing he should be top, see Perez. But on the season as a whole if you think dispassionately he dragged that Ferrari to places it had no right to be. He is super hard on himself when he makes an error but he is the real deal and Sainz is going to find him a handful at best.

    Id love to see him Max and Lewis have competitive machinery to fight each other. We got a glimpse of his superb racecraft vs Max at Silverstone but everyone, particularly the ‘lucky Lewis’ brigade, would like to see the 3 of them properly go toe to toe.

    1. Yes, we got some glimpse of it in 2019 as well, when verstappen had a good car he fought or beat hamilton, and when leclerc had one the same, unfortunately leclerc couldn’t join ferrari in 2018, that was a good car, he’d have won the title provided he didn’t make several mistakes, which he might’ve made considering the limited experience.

  14. I would probably put Leclerc 4th behind Ricciardo, but I’m flabbergasted at those who say he should be as low as 7th or even 8th. Wrt his mistakes, only Styria was a massive misjudgement, Sakhir was a smaller one in that he expected Perez to drive round the outside of Bottas rather than doing a switchback on lap 1, which is a risky move when there are cars behind.

    Leclerc’s mistakes at Sochi and Istanbul were also borne of small errors that had far larger consequences. His Monza error was probably a question of if rather than when…if you saw how the Ferraris were handling all weekend you’d’ve known that.

    Still a mistake, but it’s easy to see why they happened…at 22/23 this 3rd year driver is being tasked with overcompensating for a horrible car in a team where the pressure on any driver is tremendous. Verstappen was making glaring misjudgements well into his fourth year and really the only pressure he was under at the time was beating a very fancied teammate.

    Hamilton’s list of mistakes from 2008: impeding a driver at Sepang, clobbering the wall in Monaco, rear-ending Kimi in the pitlane in Canada, passing Vettel off-track in France, spinning at La Source in the lead in Belgium, pushing Glock off the track at Monza, pushing Kimi off the track in Japan turn 1…and yet he was widely considered to be equal-best driver of the year with Kubica. Mistakes are to be expected from inexperienced drivers, as long as they’re not smug about it and don’t become slow while trying to iron them out we shouldn’t crucify them for it.

    1. Yeah Leclerc in the top 4 seems like a no brainer: who was better than him except Hamilton and Verstappen? He’s beaten a 4 times world champ consistently for to years straight. This kid is the real deal.
      Some people seem to see him as a diva and that impacts their judgement, no idea where that comes from.

    2. @wsrgo Hamilton in 2008 also happened to win a championship against two equally competitive Ferraris, which may explain why he was considered equal best driver of the year. Including some truly outstanding races. The mistakes were there but he was also the victim of a few (including from race stewards). More reminiscent of Verstappen’s first year or two at Red Bull, I think, brilliant but sometimes wild. Leclerc is something else. He always struck me as a very level-headed rookie and he didn’t really switch to an aggressive style until bettered (bumped off track) by Verstappen. Since then, similarly overambitious/aggressive moves have become more a part of his racing. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, for him, but it’s different since it’s a style he adopted, not one he began with and, like Hamilton and Verstappen, could maybe tame with more experience. Overall I’d put Leclerc after Ricciardo, Gasly and even Sainz maybe. Definitely not third.

      1. @david-br Leclerc’s driving at Monaco 2019 was definitely aggressive, and that was before Austria. If you’ve seen him in junior formulae, he was always aggressive, take a look at his battle with Albon in Abu Dhabi in 2017, or his drives in Monaco, Hungary and Jerez, or his many drives in GP3, European F3, FR2.0 and even KZ karting.

        The point I made about Hamilton in 2008 stands, he made several errors, but he had two all-time great drives in Britain and Germany, and many other very strong ones. Leclerc’s Turkish GP drive was arguably one of the best examples of race-long midfield brilliance I’ve seen all year, until the last braking zone. His race performances at Portimao and Silverstone-2 were also amazing, and in Austria he overtook a faster car on equal tyres to secure 2nd.

        1. @wsrgo True about Monaco 2019, but I thought that was more circumstantial and one-off, at least in his early F1 career. I still think he switched approach when stewards OK-ed Verstappen’s aggression and green flagged more ‘robust’ driving. And like I said, I don’t remember the kind of clumsy lunges he’s been making more lately. I get your point that he had some real highs in 2020. I guess we’re arguing about where he comes between 3rd and 6th.

  15. IMO Leclerc has proven over the past two seasons that he is the real deal and just as quick as Verstappen and Hamilton. The three of them going head to head in equal(ish) equipment would be a mouth-watering prospect.

    I’m a bit surprised at him rating third but the whole point of this list is to factor in car performance and the Ferrari was a dog. Leclerc, Ricciardo, Sainz, Perez, Gasly and Norris were all impressive which made for a sensational midfield battle that was a pleasure to watch.

  16. The younger drivers often have moments of brilliance punctuated by moments of blunder or hesitation.

    As experience grows, so does consistency and the absolute best drivers deliver consistent brilliance rather than just consistent competence. That is what’s made watching Lewis Hamilton develop since 2007 such a joy, his gift on track has become his “default setting” and is almost flawless.

    F1 is in a great position at the moment, I don’t think there’s ever been such great raw young talent on track and some of those have the potential to be absolute gems if their performance level out the right way – and Leclerc is a standout driver for me.

  17. Steven Van Langendonck
    3rd February 2021, 11:15

    I’m surprised that so many comments are putting Charles lower and are wondering how he was rated so high.
    He put a 4 time world champion to shame. He made a few mistakes but that didn’t stop him from scoring almost twice the points as his team mate.
    It’s that simple, no?
    The excuse that Seb is unmotivated is for me not enough to compensate for the 4 tenth qualification difference. Clearly Charles was able to get results from the car that Seb could not.

    1. 3 times, not twice, you involuntarily underrated leclerc’s achievement, even though your argument is the opposite!

    2. I agree. Leclerc seemed very impressive last season, and that is taking into account his mistakes. You can even argue that he probably only lost a couple of points by making them.

      The popular opinion seems to be that he should not be in third because he made mistakes.
      I would say he is only in third because he made mistakes.

  18. Kinda felt he set the car up for qualifying well but sacrificed race pace for it and faded in the race. Made quite a few first lap nutcase moves but also made a lot of measured aggressive ones too. Wouldn’t have had him third personally as I thought he was a mixed bag this year but I can understand why others would.

    1. @rocketpanda It seems weird that he would choose to set up the car for quali. I think he was setting up the car in a way that would allow him to optimise his performance in machinery that was limited in almost every aspect. I don’t think anyone would set a car up for quali willingly if that needed them to sacrifice race pace.

      More likely, Ferrari had to run with slashed wing levels to achieve anywhere near respectable straight line speeds, which is fine for one lap, but over a race distance the lost downforce not only makes it harder to put heat into the tyres due to less load in the corners, but also generates corner instability, leading to lower tyre life. That would mean worse race pace. Not to mention the lower topline speed would make them sitting ducks on long straights, like Leclerc at Mugello.

      1. @wsrgo Overtaking is usually not easy. So it makes sense to qualify as high as possible. Besides, people rate him highly for “putting that tractor where it doesn’t belong” while in most races he just dropped back and or even made a complete shambles of it. No one seems to remember those. Not even Keith.

        1. @f1osaurus Let’s examine that ‘most races’ thing.

          Austria: gained five places. Wasn’t overtaken, in fact he overtook two faster cars, one on equal tyres (Norris) and one on older tyres (Perez).

          Styria: N/A

          Hungary: lost five places. Yes, this did happen, but the only real blame I can give Leclerc here is that he did not overrule Ferrari’s soft tyre call, which Vettel did.

          Britain: held position.

          Anniversary: gained four places with a strong 1 stop race.

          Spain: was set to do a proper one stop and gain positions here too until his car broke down.

          Belgium: fell one position due to an extra pitstop to sort out a hydraulics issue (iirc). Until then he had gained 5 positions on lap 1 but lost 3 of them, all on the Kemmel straight on a day the Ferrari were the slowest in the speed trap.

          Italy: gained positions through strategy and some solid driving until he crashed.

          Tuscany: lost three places. Gained two after a good start, but similar to Spa, lost several positions on the long straight. Unlucky with the late red flag, which probably dropped him from 6th to 8th.

          Russia: gained five places, jumped several drivers with a long first stint.

          Eifel: lost three places. No excuses here, just struggled with tyre temperatures on starts and restarts in cold conditions.

          Portugal: held position.

          Emilia-Romagna: gained two places. On older tyres lost one place to a faster car (Kvyat) but held off another (Perez).

          Turkey: gained 8 places. Arguably the fastest driver that day bar Hamilton, lost places at the start like almost every other driver who started on the even side, but made up 20 seconds over his teammate, losing out to a small mistake that had larger implications.

          Bahrain: gained three places. After a strong start he did lose some places in the early parts to faster cars

          Sakhir: N/A

          Abu Dhabi: lost one place. Weird Ferrari strategy of staying out under SC despite not starting on hards meant he was playing catch up.

          The races where he went backwards significantly were Hungary, Belgium, Tuscany and Eifel. Two of these were a simple lack of top end horsepower, one was a strategic error by Ferrari, with only Eifel completelt down to Leclerc.

          Over the entire year, Leclerc gained 14 places from quali in the races he finished. Yes you can fault him for the retirements in Styria, Italy and Sakhir, but that’s a different argument from ‘bad race pace’.

          1. It’s convenient to leave out the races where he lost most places

  19. Too high. He just made too many mistakes. I’d put him below Sainz and Ricciardo, maybe Perez and Gasly as well. Yes, I know he demolished Vettel, but I have a suspicion Stroll will also beat Vettel next year. Very much looking forward to seeing Leclerc vs Sainz – I think it’ll be very close.

    1. Yes, he could’ve been 5th I think; indeed, curious if stroll can beat vettel, will depend a lot on what level of motivation he has ofc.

  20. Most of the times i can follow the order . But LEC is definitly a error in this list.
    Yes he did nice in quali but F#$d up in race and made way to many serious errors during the year.
    The fact he outclassed a former world champion seems to weight in here.
    Sainz and Ricci should pass him in the order..

  21. Leclerc, and Verstappen, are super quick talents. But they are both dirty drivers. And although I believe Leclerc deserves this spot, any number of drivers on the grid would have outperformed a Vettel whose abilities are clearly waning.

    1. Leclerc a “dirty” driver?!! I can understand that with VER as he destroyed the race for other drivers multiple times although everybody was talking about taking it down 1 notch or 2 ’cause it’s too much and also since he doesn’t have any problem criticising other drivers…… it’s not the case with LEC. His racing style might be aggresive, not dirty tho, he’s not into political stuff a la HAM and/or engaging in spicy comments with fellow racers etc.

  22. There were times when Leclerc qualified the Ferrari far in excess of where it belonged.

    I’m very wary of this kind of argument. A driver can maximize a car’s potential, they can’t physically ‘outdrive’ the car beyond its realworld capacity. That makes no sense. More likely that Leclerc produces some brilliant qualifying laps (true) but the quali setup was made at the cost of race performance.
    Overall, I’d put Leclerc a lot further down. I’m also sceptical of Vettel’s plunge in performance in 2020. Leclerc is undoubtedly much more able to control a wayward car, with poor rear downforce, than Vettel, but other factors surely came into play to create such a gap. I wouldn’t take that gap to mean Leclerc drove brilliantly all the time. His mistakes were also fairly frequent and costly for other drivers, including his team mater. Third place seems excessively generous.

    1. It is indeed nonsense to claim that a driver can drive faster than what a car is physically capable of.

      But this is not what the statement says. The car belongs in the spot where it would qualify in a field of cars driven by an equal driver.
      If you are beter at extracting the maximum out of your car than the guy that should qualify in front of you, you are outdriving the car.

      1. Frank, I’m not seeing much difference in your explanation. I think Leclerc can be praised for being able to handle a difficult car (which I mentioned), but I suspect the qualifying performance (as @f1osaurus points out too) was down to setup and, indeed, a couple of brilliant performances, maximizing that setup. I’m not downplaying that. I’d downgrade Leclerc more for the number of overambitious moves he tried and less consistency over the season than other drivers. When a car is as bad as the Ferrari was, though, it can be difficult to judge what’s the driver and what’s the car (or the driver compensating for the car).

    2. @david-br Apart from that it’s well known that qualifying position is inversely related to race pace. Leclerc clearly sets up the car for best qualifying performance. Which means in the race he will just be slower and drop back. Which he pretty much without exception did.

  23. Leclerc is still a bit rough around the edges but an absolute monster for pace. Of the current drivers only Max is in the same league.
    There were mistakes but they are hard to avoid when you are driving a truck pretending it’s a F1 car, trying to get it in a position much higher than it has a right to be. It’s soooo easy not to make mistakes when you have an ultradominant car plus a null teammate and all you have to do is manage your pace and cruise along.

    1. My top five:
      Max Verstappen
      Charles Leclerc
      Carlos Sainz
      Danny Ricciardo
      Checo Perez

      1. Ah melanos gaslighting Hamilton again, pretending he doesn’t even exist. I recall he didn’t even make your ‘top 20’. That kind of erasure of someone’s very existence has a name you know.

        1. People beyond the top 5 does exist, you know? Even beyond the top twenty (there were 23 drivers last season). Seriously, I’d rate Mr. 44 somewhere between 6th and 8th. My 2c, anyway, no one has to agree.

          1. I’m not a fan of hamilton, I liked him during the mclaren days, but since getting a dominant car for so long I’m getting bored, I’m guessing at his age in pure speed he might no longer be as fast as leclerc or verstappen, but since 2018 I feel like he fixed some issues he had, as in up to and including 2017 he tended to “give up” when things didn’t go his way, remember some abysmal races where he drove to 4th while bottas won, and there was even something like this early 2018, example in austria, where all was good as long as he was in the lead, then due to a box mistake he ended up 4th, and instead of coming back up the grid he only went backwards, but since later that season he seems to have solved that problem, example in monza 2019 despite not having the best car he kept trying till the end to overtake leclerc, and also he seems to no longer phone it in once the championship is won in the last races of the season.

            I think he’s still a little better than verstappen when it comes to avoiding mistakes and far better than leclerc, he’s obviously helped by a car that allows him to be less time in traffic, but I wouldn’t hesitate to consider him a contender if they suddenly had all a competitive car, hopefully it happens!

          2. You can show brilliance when you raise to a challenge. If you just go by all year winning everything in your sleep, you never show brilliance, even if you really are brilliant. Avoiding mistakes when you have such an advantage is moot.

            I totally agree, with a more competitive field 44 might be able to show some racing ability and rank higher, even with a fraction of the wins and poles he is getting now without ever breaking a sweat.

  24. I hadn’t seen the team principal’s 2020 ratings before today. The value of Leclerc’s (out)performance of Vettel and machine make his ranking the least solid IMHO, but these guys are pretty much the definition of fully informed. We’ll shortly get a good deal of in(/hind)sight from the new pairings.
    Other than that rider, by my non-empirical method just 5&6 would be swapped and 7=8.
    1 Lewis Hamilton 171
    2 Max Verstappen 156
    3 Charles Leclerc 132
    4 Daniel Ricciardo 95
    5 Sergio Perez 82
    6 George Russell 75
    7 Lando Norris 45
    8 Carlos Sainz 37
    9= Valtteri Bottas 27
    9= Pierre Gasly

  25. Newsflash.

    When you start in the middle of the grid and have to overdrive the car in order to get semi-respectable results, you’re going to make more mistakes then the guy that starts on the front row almost every race and has a one second per lap car advantage over the field.

    Someone like Hamilton can drive within the limits of the car and cruise to victory from the front.

    Leclerc needs to take chances and risks if he wants any chance of a decent points haul.

  26. I think it’s too brave to put him 3-rd just because he took upper hand over Vettel.

    Vettel were too slow, yes, but due to he hadn’t motivation to be fast. Why? It’s obvious, just put yourself in his shoes why would you make good things for a team to score points? And will you make sure that he had the same car like Leclerc? Really??? Explain first why Leclerc’s car faster in the fast corners or on the straight?

    Real speed Leclerc will show this year, when he have stress and no direct support from Jock Clear. I presume you will see a bit different picture that help you to recollect something from 2020/19.

  27. Late to the party with this one – I see a lot of people commenting that Leclerc’s mistakes mean he shouldn’t be as high as third. I disagree – I think the mistakes mean he can’t be ranked as high as first.

    When he wasn’t making those mistakes, he was utterly sensational – pretty regularly putting the Ferrari far beyond where it belonged. Ricciardo and Sainz made less big mistakes than Leclerc and pretty much always put the car where it should be, and on that basis I can see why people might put them ahead of Leclerc – but for me the amount of times Leclerc did something special makes the difference for me.

    I think Leclerc was so good this season that there’s now reasonable doubt that Verstappen is the quickest driver in Formula 1 – and if Charles can iron out the mistakes like Max did Ferrari have an absolute superstar in the making.

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