2022 F1 driver rankings #3: Charles Leclerc

2022 F1 driver rankings

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In motorsport, the old cliché that ‘second place is the first loser’ has become a lazy means of dismissing what an achievement a second place finish can be – especially in the unequal world of Formula 1.

But when Charles Leclerc travelled to Bologna to collect his second place trophy at the FIA Gala – a token of his highest ever finish in the series – his downbeat demeanour betrayed just how badly Leclerc and his Ferrari team were beaten by Max Verstappen and Red Bull in 2022.

It started so promisingly. Ferrari arrived in Bahrain in with a genuine chance of fighting for the win and Leclerc promptly made the most of it, pipping Verstappen to the first pole position of the season. In the race, he faced down the new world champion fearlessly, fighting side-by-side with the Red Bull in a battle that was as hard as it was fair. Before Verstappen’s retirement in the closing laps, Leclerc had more than earned the first victory of the season, and ended Ferrari’s win drought and establish them as the early title favourites.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2022
Two early wins established Leclerc as a title hopeful
Another intense duel with Verstappen followed a week later in Jeddah, where Leclerc ultimately had to settle for second. But in Melbourne, he dominated. He stormed to pole by almost three tenths of a second and controlled the entire race, leading every lap to secure his second win in three races. Suddenly, Leclerc sat atop the drivers’ championship with almost double the points haul of any other driver and almost two full race wins’ worth over Verstappen.

But despite such a commanding early position, Leclerc proved he was not infallible the next round in Imola. After making Verstappen work hard to win in the sprint race, he dropped two places at the start of the grand prix, running behind Sergio Perez in third. Then, while trying to chase down the second Red Bull, he lost control at the Variante Alta and skidded into the barriers. Fortunately, he could continue, but his front wing was in need of repair. He eventually recovered to sixth, dropping a decent amount of points to Verstappen, who leapt up into second place in the championship.

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Pole in Miami was the perfect way for Leclerc to regain confidence. But in the race Verstappen was simply too strong to resist and he and Ferrari had to settle for second. In Spain, Leclerc looked unstoppable. He was fastest in every session and stormed to his fourth pole in six rounds – despite a spin on his first attempt in Q3. After beating Verstappen to the run to turn one, Leclerc could not have looked more comfortable out front. Then, without warning, his turbo suddenly exploded on lap 27. Race over. Zero points.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 2022
Turbo failure in Spain was the turning point
Heading to his home grand prix in Monaco, Leclerc was now behind Verstappen in the championship for the first time. Yet again he took pole, and even managed to start there, unlike last year. But while his car had let him down in Barcelona, Ferrari’s pit wall were the ones to ruin his race in Monte Carlo. A mix-up during a switch to slick tyres left him down in fourth and entirely unable to do anything to improve his position around the cramped street circuit.

Then in Baku, Leclerc’s suffered yet another setback. His fourth consecutive pole further demonstrated his raw speed – especially compared with his team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr – but a second power unit failure while leading in three races only dialled up the frustration to greater heights. As a result, he took a back-of-the-grid power unit penalty in Montreal, though he managed to recover to fifth place by the finish.

At Silverstone, another chance of a win disappeared completely when he was left out on old, hard tyres when the Safety Car was deployed late in the race. Leclerc was powerless to stop Sainz passing him and fell to fourth at the finish, despite putting up a strong fight against Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton. Leaving Britain, Leclerc’s deficit to Verstappen was now 45 points – a remarkable turnaround compared to how strong his position looked after the first three races. But that reversal had largely been in spite of Leclerc’s efforts, not because of it.

By strange coincidence, Leclerc’s luck would change at the circuit named for his rivals. Leclerc missed out on pole to Verstappen and had to hold off Sainz in the sprint race, but on Sunday, he was unstoppable. He overtook Verstappen for the lead of the race three separate times, then overcame a partially sticking throttle over the final laps to take his third victory of the season and throw himself right back into contention for the championship title.

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Following that up in France would be crucial to help Leclerc regain much-needed momentum heading into the summer break. He appeared to be on his way when he comprehensively took pole at Paul Ricard, with a little help from his team mate. For the first time since the early races, Leclerc fought head-to-head against Verstappen once more and managed to fend off his attacks through the early laps.

But after Verstappen pitted and Leclerc had to push, he threw away his entire weekend by losing control of his car at Beausset and spinning into the barriers – his third retirement from the lead of a race in the season and the first for which he was entirely to blame.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Austria proved his final win of the year
After another head-scratching strategy decision by Ferrari at the Hungaroring left him in sixth place and 80 points behind Verstappen, any realistic hopes of Leclerc clawing himself back into contention were almost dead. He caught more bad luck in Spa when he collected a tear-off in his brake duct early in the race which forced Ferrari to pit him early, then an attempt at the fastest lap point backfired comically when he broke the pit lane speed limit, costing him a position for zero gain.

By now, Verstappen and Red Bull were untouchable. As Verstappen continued to march towards the championship, Leclerc at least had the continued measure of team mate Sainz. Back-to-back poles at Ferrari’s home race at Monza and then Singapore helped pad his stats, but Ferrari had used up their development budget by this stage and began to be caught by Mercedes. Leclerc continued to fight hard on race days, however, even pushing the envelope too far in the case of the final lap at Suzuka, where he was demoted to third behind Perez after missing the final chicane. That decided the title in Verstappen’s favour with four races.

As Ferrari struggled to keep up with the Red Bulls near the end of the season, Sainz began to beat his team mate to the chequered flag for the first time during the year. But Leclerc was again getting no favours from his team, who decided to send him out on a still-dry Interlagos on intermediate tyres in Q3, then call him into change back to slicks too late.

But in Abu Dhabi, with nothing to race for other than the ‘honour’ of being the first driver to lost to Verstappen, Leclerc put in his best drive over the second half of the season. He pushed himself and his tyres to the limit to make a one-stop strategy work and keep just out of reach of a pursuing Perez to hold onto second place at the finish. As typical of Leclerc’s season, he had toiled hard, but was ultimately rewarded with very little.

Leclerc’s most successful season with Ferrari had also been his most frustrating, where his early dreams of fighting for the world title for the first time in his career vanished into air like smoke from the rear of his car. But at least for the first part of the season, Leclerc demonstrated he has the steely nerve required to fight against a world champion like Verstappen on an equal footing. And with his former Sauber team principal Frederic Vasseur guiding him next season, Leclerc knows he can head into 2023 more confident of his own brilliant abilities than ever before.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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49 comments on “2022 F1 driver rankings #3: Charles Leclerc”

  1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    22nd December 2022, 8:41

    I think Norris is getting over rated here. A difference of 18 positions over his team mate seems a little extreme given that there were at least a few races where ricciardo looked better. I feel a lot to do with ricciardo’s really low rating is to do with his expectations and previous ability. I couldn’t say he’s done worse than schumacher this season. And I can’t say he’s done betetr than Leclerc either. Given how poor ricciardo has been, I think Norris is a bit hard to rate, but 2nd is too generous.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      22nd December 2022, 8:41

      Although I haven’t found out where norris is yet. Surely not 1st!

    2. Norris isn’t even better than Sainz. He is insanely overrated for dominating a teammate who is like a fish out of water in that McLaren. Norris only has 6 podiums in F1. He has a lot to prove.

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        22nd December 2022, 9:13

        You can’t prove that. Sainz had been in F1 since 2015 and Norris looked very similar pace wise to Sainz in his rookie season – which was impressive. Although it can’t beproven, I think Norris has improved a lot since his rookie season, and he makes FAR less mistakes than Sainz, and the latter is certainly proven. I think Norris is now a fair bit better than Sainz. 6 Podiums in the Mclaern is pretty impressive.

        Also, take a look at the 2021 season. If you are judging Norris by his number of podiums, then the fact he got an equan number of podiums (4) in his Mclaren in 2021 than Sainz did in the Ferrari says a lot.

        All this said, I still think 2nd is too high for Norris this season. But he isn’t “insanely overrated.

        1. I think there is a fair call for Norris to be ranked 3rd but not much lower than that so he clearly wasn’t overrated as you say. I think it’s fair to say though that Leclerc made some pretty bad, very visible and very costly errors.

        2. Sainz had been in F1 since 2015 and Norris looked very similar pace wise to Sainz in his rookie season – which was impressive.

          See, I think that’s where the Lando narrative is the weakest. The real greats do don’t ‘impressive’ by being similar to a middling pay driver in the same car. They just go out and are faster, sometimes significantly, most of the time.

          1. *don’t do

        3. You are comparing apples with oranges. Sainz and Norris literally drove the same car in 2019 and 2020. Not just in his rookie season.

        4. If you mean mclaren 2021 vs ferrari 2021, that podium stat is not impressive because the cars were similar, however I also think norris is a top driver and I also think 2nd is overrated for the season.

          1. If Norris is a top driver Sainz is a top driver too. Norris looked invincible next to Sainz for 2 years

      2. @malith When exactly has Norris had a car available to him that’s capable of achieving a podium when all of the top 3 teams finish with both cars?

        He’s the only driver not in a top 3 team who achived a podium in 2022. He also managed to finish 6th and got the fastest lap at Monaco whilst still suffering with tonsillitis. That one fact blows my mind, because the last couple of times I’ve had tonsillitis, I couldn’t even move from my bed for about three days and felt the effects for about two weeks

        1. Norris is very good. I’m comparing him with Sainz and Leclerc. They are very good too obviously. Sainz was one of the stars in the midfield before he got to Ferrari. I always thought Norris and Sainz were closely matched. But Sainz was the more impressive driver when they were teammates. Just check the Racefans driver rankings in 2019 and 2020.

    3. @thegianthogweed

      Completely agree. Max was a clear #1 this season.. followed by Charles, who was a clear #2 in the rankings. Sure, he messed up in Imola and France, but he was the only driver to show the pace and potential to challenge Max. People easily forgot that he was probably the best driver for the opening 5 to 6 races, and he could have won in Monaco, Britain and Hungary if it wasn’t for his team’s ridiculous strategies.

      Norris had one highlight with a podium in Imola, and even that was kind of gifted to him because Leclerc made a mistake. Don’t get me wrong … Norris was super consistent all season and barely made any errors, but he was rarely spectacular as shown in the weekly driver ratings.

      He’s been far too flattered this season. I’d rate Norris at #5 this season, below – Max, Charles, Lewis and George

      1. I’m happy with Lando at #2, but it’s funny that you leave Alonso out despite the data showing he was consistently faster.

        Said data straight from F1:

        https://postimg.cc/gallery/8vZTJL0

    4. I completely agree. I think Leclerc being a title contender puts a magnifying glass over his performances whereas Norris flys under the radar more often. Sure, he beat an 8 time winner in Ricciardo but is Norris really that great is is Daniel just underwhelming? Maybe we’ll get a better idea when Oscar joins next year.

    5. How many times did we Leclerc screaming into his radio in frustration over mistakes he made? Right there is enough evidence not to rank him #2.

      I am not a Norris fan (he’s afraid to race in the wet), but Norris was always on the ball and always maximizing his platform. Meanwhile, Leclerc made mistake after mistake. And unlike Sainz, didn’t have the capacity or confidence to call his own race when Ferrari was making terrible strategic choices.

      1. Charles Leclerc raced under pressure. He was competing for championship. Norris on the other hand just tried to finish his races and collect pts. Doubt he would take risks and make any errors.

  2. I’ve been critical of numerous rankings for this season but this is demonstrable proof that integer scores don’t provide enough analysis.

    Leclerc was perfect in Australia for example but scored an 8. Norris was given a 7 there and finished one place ahead of Ricciardo; Leclerc had been top 3 every session, led every lap and had fastest lap. Personally, I find that unjust – it’s the same for the Spain ranking. If these are driver rankings what more could Leclerc have done?

    Leclerc was clearly the second best driver this year; Max was untouchable. But Charles probably should have won 7 of the first 11 races. He was on it everywhere except Mexico where Ferrari had clearly turned the engines down to conserve reliability in the fight with Mercedes. His qualifying efforts were peerless.

    He had a couple of small errors albeit with tough consequences. His Ricard error was no worse than Verstappen’s in Spain. Wheel to wheel this year he was fantastic and a real challenge to Max.

    Ferrari badly let Charles down but his season was his best to date.

  3. Norris in P2 is much more about the terrible Ric performances and less about his own.

    Even this soon, looking back over the season, I don’t think ‘ wow Norris was great at that track and that overtake’, rather, Riccardo was generally rubbish everywhere making Norris look much better than he was.

  4. Norris 2nd, Ricciardo 18th. One of these is surely wrong. Norris did destroy Ricciardo, but I don’t think two teammates have ever been this far apart in the rankings.

    1. I believe Vettel was 19th in 2020 while Leclerc was 3rd. If I’m not wrong. Oops. That same year Verstappen was 2nd while Albon was 18th.

      1. Close, but my mistake…Ricciardo was 19th this year, which means an unprecedented gap of 17 positions.

        2020 was a weird year where the condensed championship meant drivers didn’t have much chance to evolve as the season went on, so I guess that’s why some battles were so lopsided and didn’t trend in any particular direction as the season went on.

        1. I’d say that has more to do with vettel being done with ferrari and albon not adapting to the red bull.

  5. So few comments about LeClerc here. Maybe they will come to the fore under LN’s article ??

    1. It’s not exactly the most controversial placing in the rankings, he could be 2 or 3 but he definitely wasn’t number 1. Norris finished the best of the rest (outside top 3) in a car that was the slowest car on the grid at the first 2 races of the year and was rarely better than the fifth fastest car on the grid. He massively outperformed the car all year and took nearly every opportunity he had over the year. He also didn’t make the hugely visible errors that Leclerc did. As such it’s arguable that he could rank above Leclerc. Had Leclerc driven a bit better this year he could have been in contention for the WDC for longer, instead he was battling not to lose second going into the final races.

    2. Most people expected Leclerc to be towards the top of this list, but the big controversy is why does Norris deserve to be higher than Charles? I’m honestly not sure I’ve seen a convincing argument.

      1. Because, unlike Leclerc, Norris wasn’t consistently throwing points away. People act like showing you can be really fast is enough while driving a fast chassis is all you need to display. There’s so much more that goes jnto being a great driver.

        And, BTW, this is coming from someone who find CL one of only 3-4 likable F1 drivers in the entire field.

  6. Imagine you are a new comer team in 2023 F1 and you are looking for a driver. You only have 1 seat available (the other one is already fullfilled by a paid driver).
    Lando and Leclerc are available. Which one would you pick?
    Yeah, me too…

    1. @alexandre Lima So that’s two votes for Norris then :P

    2. I’d pick Norris, Leclerc has not improved in 4 years.

      1. But Norris still hasn’t improved to Leclerc’s level.

        1. @todfod I realise that you have a major downer on Norris (or are a major supporter of Leclerc, one of the two), but if you look at the cars that Leclerc has had, compared with the cars Norris has had, not sure what else Norris could’ve done to impress you.

          1. Just compare Leclerc’s performance against Sainz for 2 years to Norris’ performance against Sainz for 2 years amigo. Don’t compare apples with oranges. I will tell you what Norris could have done better. Beat Sainz at McLaren. He didn’t do it.

            Leclerc’s performance in 2022 was a clear improvement over his 2021.

          2. @nvherman

            Honestly man, Leclerc and Norris are my two favourite drivers of the new generation.. But just flattering someone’s performance because he didn’t make mistakes in an uncompetitive car isn’t a fair way to rank. Leclerc had a more competitive car.. But he was also in credibly fast and had a lot of highs this season. Norris didn’t have any standout performances this year other than Imola. Norris was far more impressive last season than he was in this one. Leclerc was unlucky not to walk away with 6 or 7 wins this season.. And he’s only being judged on the errors he made and radio frustrations.

            You got to ask yourself whether Norris would have been able to battle with Max like Leclerc did.. And also take more poles than anyone else if he was in that Ferrari. I honestly don’t believe he would have

      2. By what metrics has he not improved? @slowmo

        1. He’s still very error prone, still quite poor on race pace compared to qualifying pace and in general has too many poor races in a year compared to the likes of Hamilton and Verstappen. He has always been fast but hasn’t kicked on yet. I’d dearly love to see Norris alongside him in that Ferrari and I’d put my money on him beating him.

          1. I think “very” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here @slowmo. He made 3 mistakes that cost him points in my mind – Imola, Ricard and Japan. In Imola he was on a power strategy and should have attacked; Ricard is a tiny mistake; Japan is the result of being in a much slower car for the entire race. 7 in 22 is not “very error prone” in my mind.

            His race pace was well ahead of his team-mate and second this season:https://postimg.cc/VrVYB5V2.

            Hamilton was off the pace for half the season – Leclerc had an average race in Mexico otherwise was there or thereabouts. Had Ferrari not cost him potentially 5 wins – Spain, Baku, Monaco, Silverstone and Hungary, would we seriously be arguing he was behind Norris.

            Norris is quick but his record under pressure is abysmal. In Russia he made the wrong call under pressure costing him the win and in Spa quali he made another serious error. He’s shown to be a dependable driver but he’s proven nothing at the sharp end.

          2. I guess time will tell. Hamilton was also trying to solve a fundamentally flawed car for half the season so has extenuating circumstances where as Leclerc didn’t have any reason for his mistakes. It’s worth noting that for the first half of the season Leclerc was driving arguably the fastest car so perhaps he should have been second on race pace on merit given how poor Perez was compared to his teammate.

            It’s worth noting that Leclerc made exactly the same gamble to stay on slicks as Norris that day at the Russian GP, guess he’s abysmal at making decisions too then.

            If Leclerc drove a Haas would he even be in the top 10 on this list? The only reason he is so high on the list is because he drives a car capable of showing his talent, so throwing the team to the wolves for the wins he missed out is a bit rich as without them he’d be lower anyway. Yes Ferrari did cost him some wins with reliability but the reason he had pace to be in the running was because they gambled on performance of their engine in the first place. So yes, not delivering those 5 wins should count against him, just like the wins he did get went in his favour thanks to the performance of his car.

            You can criticize Norris ability at the sharp end when he fails in a race winning car. I would iterate I’ve seen little progress with Leclerc’s ability since 2019.

          3. @slowmo you could make a “they win and lose together” argument for any driver ever. Ferrari’s strategy team cost him the same number of wins as he achieved. That cannot be held against the driver.

            I find your Hamilton comparison tenuous -he should be forgiven half a season of average performances to his team-mate but Leclerc goes missing more often? Which races did Leclerc go missing?

            The only way of assessing if Leclerc would be in the top ten in a backmarker is to check the rankings from 2018 – where he was third.

            I can criticise Norris’ performances at the sharp end now as he’s been in the hunt and made a mess of it before.

            By which statistical metrics is Leclerc not improving? Quali? Wheel to wheel? For me he made too made wheel to wheel mistakes in 2019 and 2021 but there were none this year which is clearly an improvement.

      3. Leclerc had his best ever season in 2022 by any statistic, how are you going to say hasn’t improved?

        1. @Dane
          Because that is what statistics do. They hide the most important ‘metric’ considered for judging performance or growth… unforced errors.
          There is no denying he got stuffed by his team.. but the occasions when they forgot to mess up his race he dropped the ball himself a few times. Those have to have weight in these kind of rankings.

          1. I disagree. Unforced Errors is by itself a metric. Leclerc made 3 mistakes that cost him about 35 points this season. If you wish to be hypercritical he lost another 2 in Spa for speeding in the pits. Given 25 of those where Ricard, 12 points dropped over 21 races is hardly error strewn.

            Are you arguing that is much worse than others around him?

    3. But this ranking isn’t about who is the best driver overall. It’s about who performed best this season. In either case, for me positions 2-6 are fairly interchangeable and there are reasons for ranking any of them higher or lower within that range.

      1. That’s the smartest thing I’ve read on here today, I’d go as far as to say 1-6

        The car plays an enormous part in it too, Max looked ahead this season, but when you have a car that is that far ahead of the competition it makes things look easier, and takes the pressure off. When you have to push the limit to try to compete, more mistakes will be made

        1. Indeed, on this basis I have a hard time even ranking verstappen ahead of leclerc: leclerc made less mistakes, just lost more points than verstappen did through them and they both drove the car to its max potential all season long.

          I’m “surprised” leclerc didn’t take 2nd in the rankings, don’t think norris had such an impressive season to be ranked 2nd, quotes cause I’m ofc no longer surprised after we found out the rankings are the same as the year-averages of the race-by-race ratings.

        2. “ The car plays an enormous part in it too, Max looked ahead this season, but when you have a car that is that far ahead of the competition it makes things look easier, and takes the pressure off”

          Sure m8, tell this to Perez 🥱

      2. Who are the top 6? My picks are Russell, Hamilton, Sainz, Leclerc, Verstappen and Norris. No room for Alonso here sadly.

  7. Mark in Florida
    23rd December 2022, 2:00

    Who came up with the math that ranked Leclerc 3rd ? Was this based on fact or feelings? Leclerc deserves a medal just for surviving Binocchios time at the team. Ferrari produced a quick car but often times horrible pit strategies did Leclerc in. I believe that frustration caused some of his errors because he not only had to beat Max but his pit wall as well. Leclerc never seemed comfortable with his teammate as it appeared politics were at play. Mattia never prioritized Charles race position and let Carlos “getting a win” become more important than than winning the championship per his own words. So yeah Charles is number 2 not 3. Lando beating Ricciardo is like saying my Mustang beat the mail truck, not impressed at all.

  8. Say whatever you want, I simply don’t and won’t agree that Charles is 3rd behind Lando. Facts are facts when ALL things are considered.

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