Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Losail International Circuit, 2021

2021 F1 driver rankings #4: Charles Leclerc

2021 F1 driver rankings

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From his sole run in Q3 at the season-opening round in Bahrain, which secured him a place on the second row of the grid, Charles Leclerc demonstrated the higher level Ferrari had reached in 2021 following their disastrous campaign the year before.

Charles Leclerc

Beat team mate in qualifying13/22
Beat team mate in race14/20
Races finished20/21
Laps spent ahead of team mate775/1144
Qualifying margin-0.02s

Of the team’s two drivers, Leclerc was the one who hit that level most consistently. At Silverstone he came within three laps of delivering the victory which has eluded the team since 2019.

Nonetheless Leclerc ended the season behind his team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr in the points standings. This was in part due to some misfortune, but there were also times when he left points on the table.

Leclerc ran in front of where the car belonged in the opening stages in Bahrain, before the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez inevitably found their way past in much quicker cars, as did Lando Norris in his McLaren. The competitiveness of the Ferrari fluctuated over the coming races, so performances of this kind weren’t always possible, but Leclerc consistently gave a very good account of himself.

He got himself up to second at Imola but missed out on a podium finish after Norris passed him at a restart. Leclerc ran well in Portugal, passing Sainz, and was in great form at the Spanish Grand Prix, passing Bottas early on and taking the flag ahead of Perez in fourth.

Astonishingly, Leclerc then planted his Ferrari on pole position for the next two races. However he didn’t entirely cover himself in glory at home, smashing his car into a barrier on his final Q3 run. A pre-race technical problem meant he didn’t start. He did lead in Baku, but lost his advantage when he had to dart off-track to avoid a fallen branch. After falling behind Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly, Leclerc took fourth again.

The triple-header of Paul Ricard and two races at the Red Bull Ring were largely disappointing for Leclerc. The team suffered poor tyre performance in the French round, and in the first Austrian race he was incredibly lucky to go unpunished for a first-lap tangle which ended Gasly’s afternoon. Leclerc’s subsequent recovery to seventh was excellent, however, and left him one place higher than he managed a week later, when he was twice forced wide by Perez.

When the championship contenders clashed at Silverstone, Leclerc’s fine qualifying and sprint qualifying efforts meant he inherited the lead. He was unable to stop Lewis Hamilton from taking victory but still came in second ahead of Bottas.

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Remarkably, this was Leclerc’s only podium finish of the season: Sainz took three more, but notably had no fourth-placed finishes while Leclerc took six. Leclerc’s better finishes tended not to coincide with days when the quicker cars were uncompetitive. On at least one other occasion he was downright unlucky: This was the next race in Hungary, where Lance Stroll took him out at the start.

Leclerc led for 49 laps at Silverstone
In Russia Leclerc received a power unit upgrade, which left him at the back of the grid, but provided a significant uplift in Ferrari’s performances over the remaing races. Even so, Leclerc had taken top-five finishes in the races which preceded it at Zandvoort and Monza (the latter despite being unwell in qualifying).

Leclerc’s recovery drive in Sochi was thwarted when he stayed out too long as the rain fell (a decision his team mate got right), dropping him out of the points. But four more top-five finishes followed, including three in which Leclerc’s car was the first home behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls. He was especially impressive at Circuit of the Americas, qualifying just a tenth of a second behind Bottas.

His one-lap pace caught the eye again in Jeddah where Leclerc lined up ahead of Perez. But at the preceding round in Qatar he thumped a kerb in Q1, cracked his chassis and was unable to progress from Q2. Nonetheless he recovered to follow Sainz home in the race.

Leclerc finished the season much as he began it, qualifying well and getting ahead of Bottas at the start in Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately on this occasion a VSC period did not play in his favour and he fell to an unusually low 10th at the finish.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto’s estimate that Leclerc lost 40 points to misfortune during 2021 is a bit generous. But it’s not hard to imagine how easily he could have found the six points which would have moved him up from sixth to fourth in the final standings, and that position is arguably a fairer reflection of his sometimes under-rewarded efforts in 2021.

What’s your verdict on Charles Leclerc’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments. Add your views on the other drivers 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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46 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #4: Charles Leclerc”

  1. @Keith Collantine-“he could have found the six points which would have moved him up from sixth to fourth in the final standings”
    A mistake here. Leclerc finished 7th in the final standings and six more points would move him up to only 5th.

    1. Wish full thinking from @keithcollantine maybe that is why he put Charles above Sainz..

      1. Or maybe the fact he outperformed sainz in 14 races is the reason.

        1. Then Stroll should be in front of Vettel. That’s just statistics, in the end Sainz finished in front.

          1. Sainz finishing ahead of Leclerc is also just a statistic. It doesn’t say which driver is better. If it did, you might as well just put the driver rankings in the order they finished the championship, which would make the entire thing utterly pointless.

          2. you might as well just put the driver rankings in the order they finished the championship

            Total nonsense when the cars (& teams) are so unlike each other. Mick did vastly better than Valtteri if you ask me, but the driver rankings of course do not reflect that. Nor this website’s official ranking, which is heavily biased by the championship results.
            But between teammates with (mostly) equal cars and no obvious intrateam hierarchy, the results do tend to reflects their relative merits. Luck may of course be involved too.

            FWIW I rank Carlos a bit higher than Charles this season. OK, Charles has more pace. But Carlos is a lot more consistent. You can win a race on pure pace but to win a championship you need consistence. I’d say after the first few races (while Carlos was still finding his way with the Fezza), Charles was owned by Carlos, race after race.

            Given the right car I believe Carlos has in him one, or a few, WDCs. I am not so sure about Charles. He needs to mature as a driver and learn to fight for every point, not just for the win. It is a truism that drivers may mature and find more consistency, but they hardly ever find more pace if they don’t have it from the beginning. If that is right, Charles may eventually became a better driver than Cartos. But not just yet.

          3. [Actually a reply to melanos as there doesn’t seem to be a reply button.]

            You were clearly so desparate to disagree with me that you misread my comment. I even said in the SAME SENTENCE you quoted that doing that would be pointless.

            Dex said that Leclerc beating Sainz 14-6 was ‘just statistics’ and that what really mattered in the end was that ‘Sainz finished ahead’. My point was that, if we ranked everything that way, ‘you might as well just put the driver rankings in the order they finished the championship’. My point was that this would render the entire ranking system utterly pointless as it would just be a carbon copy of the championship result.

            Please try to read my comment in full before you answer next time.

          4. Sorry Nomad, I read in full and understood perfectly your comment but you apparently did not understand mine (though at least I hope you read it in full).

            Charles and Carlos (or Vettel and Stroll) are teammates and play in a more or less level field. Their final WDC ranking makes sense if you want to compare their merit (not up to a 100%, agreed, but mostly)

            But you when you say you might as well rank the relative merit of all drivers by their WDC ranking your argument is fallacious. Of course we both agree that would be pointless. No one in their right mind would say Valtteri performed better than Lando, albeit their respective scores were 221 and 160. And it it pointless because the car/teams were different, i.e. the Mezza was vastly superior to the McL.

            Your fallacy, which I pointed out, was equalling this utterly nonsensical comparison to a comparison between teammates, which makes a lot more sense because the car/teams are same (or mostly). It is vastly more legitimate (albeit still not perfect, ok) to compare by their WDC ranking Seb vs Lance than Valtteri vs Lando. I do hope we can agree on that.

          5. Thanks for your clarification, melanos. In retrospect, you are correct. My argument is fallacious. Thanks for taking the time to point that out.

        2. If you look only to the stats you have a point but we are now looking only to performance with teammate in mind. If you see Sainz came in this car this season and Charles drives this car since 2019 while Charles had a better first half (expected) It’s Sainz who out perform Charles in the second part or Charles was just slow (which i don’t think) or that Sainz was just faster.

          1. Sainz certainly did a good job adapting to the car in his first season at ferrari when you compare him to perez for example, when in a regular season I’d consider them pretty equal, but usually the rankings on this website don’t keep those things into account, nor the driver experience, you can see this since perez was ranked lower than bottas.

  2. Sainz is not clearly one of the favorites from @keithcollantine, he never give credit to Sainz and only look for the negatives instead of looking in to all the positives from his fantastic season. Sainz will talk in the track like always does!!

    1. Putting Sainz #5 out of 20 drivers is surely giving him credit.

      1. Yes, I think it’s enough credit, all the ones above sainz were exceptional in terms of speed, sainz got the best other possible place through incredible consistency.

    2. He is being sarcastic. To me both ferrari drivers should be at least a couple places lower but because it is sainz jr, he is got to be 5th.

    1. Pretty fair analysis though somewhat generous to leclerc in a few races. I think Keith’s ranking is also fair for these two, but they are very closely matched. I’d say gasly was on the same level this year too, better than Alonso over the course of the full season.

      1. Gasly is this generation’s Olivier Panis. Good at thrashing weak teammates but falters when up against tougher ones. Oh wait they both won F2/F3000 too.

      2. @frood19 thanks, but in which races did you think I was too generous to Leclerc?

        1. @f1frog I realise it’s all a bit arbitrary, but the 3-point ‘win’ in Spain seems a bit generous to leclerc (though to be fair I don’t remember it that well). For Hungary, i think they should be rated evenly. When I first read it, I thought some others were slightly favourable towards leclerc but without knowing your system, it’s impossible really to say.

  3. Disappointing season by Leclerc. You would imagine as was the case with the majority of sainz jr teammates that leclerc was going to hammer sainz jr. Charles kind of did but he started making mistakes right from the start of the season. Charles made too many mistakes in q1 and q2, wasted too many sets of tyres compared to sainz jr. Accidents and some misfortune did cost him 40+ points however his ever growing edginess meant that slow and steady Carlos actually started getting the bettet of charles in qualifying. Sainz jr was super lucky but he did beat Charles in qualifying too many times.

    1. I agree. Both Ferrari drivers were underwhelming and quite frankly a disappointment this year. Or they were hyped up too much. Or the car was terrible. Anyway, the outcome of their season is one to quickly forget. Simply too many mistakes and too often if they want to be in the championship fight.

      1. But Sainz had to learn the car and that excuse had Charles not, but i think both should be 2-3 places lower in this rating.

      2. The most overhyped driving pair on the grid by a margin.

        1. I am afraid so

    2. Leclerc certainly has the pace advantage, especially in qualifying but his mistakes will fade with experience just like Verstappen.

  4. The moment Gasly was 6th, I think the top 5 were decided. It is just the way the season was.

    1. Gasly wasn’t sixth. Alonso was

    2. Yes, I agree, I had some slight doubt about sainz being 5th, but it was actually due to the comment section, this was the reasonable top 5.

  5. The problem with leclerc still is patience. His errors almost always are based on an action on the wto g moment.
    As I stated before I would have switched positions with Sainz but both are very close.
    Sainz is obviously better in adapting quickly.
    Let’s hope ferrari will deliver a beast of a car and they both are able to fight for podium.

    1. *fight for wins

      1. Even better.
        But there is only one first place, so they still have to go for a podium.

  6. someone or something
    25th January 2022, 14:38

    Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto’s estimate that Leclerc lost 40 points to misfortune during 2021 is a bit generous.

    On the contrary, I think he’s erring on the conservative side with this. He may have lost 40 points in Monaco and Hungary alone.

    1. Though Monaco wasn’t misfortune as much as driver and team errors, so that brings it down some 12-26 points again.

      1. someone or something
        25th January 2022, 16:57

        I beg to differ. I’m not talking about points he did or didn’t deserve, but points he could’ve scored. I don’t do karma.
        It doesn’t matter that the driveshaft failure was (most likely?) a consequence of his crash. The matter of the fact is that it was a comparatively minor issue that would’ve been easy to fix – but it wasn’t noticed until it was too late. That tiny little oversight is what prevented him from taking the start from pole in Monaco, in a car whose pace rivalled Red Bull’s and Mercedes’ on that particular weekend.

        1. Still no misfortune.
          The team missed an essential part and that caused the loss.

          1. Red Bull were running marginal tyre pressures on Verstappen’s car in Baku. There was no misfortune involved in his tyre failure.

          2. someone or something
            25th January 2022, 22:37

            Look mate, your comment makes no sense. What you describe is a textbook example of misfortune.

  7. A balanced assessment but I think he should be ranked higher than Norris. Norris had the car and floundered in key moments. At the end of the year Norris seemed to fade away too.

    1. The McLaren faded more than Norris did, and he also had some bad luck I think, while Ricciardo finally started to get better (his luck/timing that it was at a stage where the team losing out due to no development I guess) @david-beau

    2. Ferrari was the better car for the most of the year.

  8. Generally fair rankings so far, however I would not place both Ferrari drivers above Gasly and Alonso.

    I consider myself Ferrari fan, but to be honest I barely paid attention to them this season. Both drivers don’t excite me, I don’t see in them future F1 legends. Hopefully they will prove me wrong once (if) given proper car.

    But still, one could have see that Max had something special even when the Red Bull was not front runner and I just don’t see this in the current Ferrari line up.

  9. Leclerc got a taste of competitive machinery in 2019 and delivered with 7 poles, 2 wins (should have been 4) and taking the mantle of lead Ferrari driver from Vettel.

    Since then he has been impatient, which has shown in some reckless crashes and over driving on occasion. But IMO that is purely a reflection on Ferrari, not Leclerc. He’s not interested in consistent points, or even podiums. He is driven by wins and championships.

    Give him a more competitive car and I have no doubt he will challenge the likes of Verstappen and Hamilton. He was also better than Sainz, on the whole, this year.

    Ferrari have an awesome line up !

    1. Agree with this, I think he’s doing like verstappen, there’s no point not taking risks when you can only go for an occasional win, when the car comes I’m sure he’ll be up there.

  10. Sainz was better the whole year. The championship is awarder for higher points tally rather than for desires and drive.

    1. As someone said, then no point making a ranking if the one with most points is always ahead.

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