Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Baku City Circuit, 2021

Leclerc backed off before Hamilton passed him for lead

2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Charles Leclerc revealed he lost the lead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix to Lewis Hamilton after backing off because he had cut a corner.

The Ferrari driver led the opening laps of Sunday’s race from pole position but was passed by Hamilton as lap three began. Leclerc revealed he had slowed down intentionally after cutting a corner due to debris on the circuit.

“There was like a part of a tree in the middle of turn 15,” Leclerc explained. “And there I actually lost quite a bit of time because I cut the track.”

Hamilton, following closed behind, did not cut the corner. Leclerc was concerned he could be penalised for leaving the track and gaining an advantage if he did not slow down.

“I was a bit worried to gain time on Lewis behind, that hadn’t cut the track. So I slowed down and then he overtook me.”

Losing that position to Hamilton began a domino effect for Leclerc, who was passed by Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez soon afterwards.

“From then on it was quite difficult because then I was behind Lewis, in dirty air, [and] I struggled a little bit,” said Leclerc. “As soon as I lost the DRS Max overtook me and then you are just in a vicious circle that is very difficult because I had cars all around me that had a bit more pace than I did.”

Leclerc, who went on to finish fourth, said it was inevitable the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers would pass him.

“I struggled a little bit, then I recovered a little bit of pace, but then we decided to stop early to go on those hard tyres. But there was nothing that was unexpected in these first few laps because we expected Mercedes and Red Bull to be a bit stronger anyway.”

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2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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RJ O'Connell
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19 comments on “Leclerc backed off before Hamilton passed him for lead”

  1. A tree branch didn’t seem to be on track, though. Unless it was so small that noticing it on the TV footage was nearly impossible.

    1. ian dearing
      7th June 2021, 9:41

      Well It was picked up by the commentators; and something hit Hamilton’s wing hard enough to punch a hole in it.

    2. The branch was large and partly across the racing line, but it was also a shade of brown that was rather similar to the shade of grey of the track. Thus you might have missed it through some sort of optical illusion. Most of the frontrunners skipped the corner, but the others didn’t lose out quite so dramatically.

      1. There was also a brief yellow flag on the same part of the track shortly after the branch was picked up on the cameras, which I suspect was used to allow a brave marshal to quickly jump down and remove it.

      2. @alianora-la-canta @red-andy
        Probably, yes, similar color + shade. Red Bull drivers cutting the corner, I did notice.

        1. That was a tree branch where the Red Bulls evaded as you can watch the onboard what it was.

  2. It was there. Branch with leaves.

  3. Bit of a mistake by Leclerc I’d say… If you cut the corner, get to the end of the straight and then let Hamilton catch back up on a safe part of the track. What he did was the sporting thing to do but I certainly don’t think Hamilton or Verstappen would have done the same for him if the roles were reversed!

    1. @petebaldwin Lewis most likely would, simply to avoid the penalty (though he wouldn’t have “feared” the penalty so much as been confident the penalty would be applied). I can well imagine Max pressing the accelerator harder in an attempt to make enough gap to nullify any potential penalty.

  4. Strange story. I hope he is making up excuses, because if he really thinks like this in the car it will cost him. In fact, it already did.

  5. Non story I guess. 1 lap later he would breeze past with DRS. The ferraris are easily the slower car down the straights. Leclerc’s saving grace is that he managed a good lap in his first attempt as he did in Monaco. I believe racecraft is something you can improve with experience but speed is natural and in that respect he is as good if better than anyone.

  6. it was from a chestnut tree. I think i saw from the camera angles, there are quite many of these trees in Baku.
    And if you know how a chestnut looks when it’s still in it’s green, spiky cover (no idea how to properly express this in english) i guess it’s nothing pleasant. I think Stroll ran over a chestnut as well if I am not mistaken, they have shown it in a replay in the first third of the race..

    1. How crazy would that be if it turned out it was the spiky burr that damaged Strolls tyre!

  7. What a mistake… especially that he had a good excuse to leave the track. HAM and VER wouldn’t have done such thing – to back off. Remember HAM in Mexico, he didn’t sweat when missed an entire corner and went from 0.1sec advantage when left the track to a 2-3sec advantage when he rejoined.

    1. @mg1982 It’s not a mistake if a penalty would have been issued – and the FIA cannot be relied upon to apply common-sense defences in mitigation (such as a large obstacle in the way). Also, Hamilton was so confident that the FIA would penalise such an action that he chose to drive partially over the branch instead of starting the entire debate in his case…

      1. Neah, I’m pretty sure it’s not like that. I think you consider HAM to be smarter, knowledgeable, with superpowers etc than he actually is. HAM was 2nd and too close to LEC to maybe even see the branch, most likely he just drove into it because he saw it way too late to do anything about it anymore. To process in just 1-2 sec at best that FIA will punish those who will leave the track… it’s really an exaggeration, even when we’re talking about HAM. Agree that LEC seems to be having 7 years from home, sense of honour etc, but too much of everything will turn bad in the end. I don’t think LEC really deserved any kind of penalty because it’s not his job to ensure the race is held in best possible conditions.

  8. isthatglock21
    7th June 2021, 16:53

    Don’t blmae him for cutting it tbh as he was the first to see it. It looked rather scary as it was right on the braking zone & before they turn in, also in a area where many crashed anyway. Surprised Lewis didn’t cut it, Max & Perez behind him also cut it. Maybe that was why Lewis had that huge crack on his front wing they showed on TV during the red flag? No one got to the bottom of that, it looked nasty to leave such a odd deep cut in what are usually solid wings.

  9. That’s a huge mistake, and far from the rule-bender win-at-all-cost Leclerc we know from his Monza win.

    Suddenly overly scared of the law after Monaco is slightly revealing IMO..

    1. @balue This predates Monaco. Remember when Charles nearly stopped to enable Max out from that marginal off-track excursion under the Safety Car at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix? This isn’t a glitch or a one-off. It’s a pattern. Charles has a sense of honour that does not map onto yours or indeed the paddock’s at large – but it is there, and every so often it affects how he handles situations (for better or worse).

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