Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023

Why Ferrari have “no doubt” dire start to 2023 hasn’t affected Leclerc’s motivation

News Focus

Posted on

| Written by

Twelve months ago Charles Leclerc left the Australian Grand Prix having picked up his second pole position, win and fastest lap of the season. He headed the drivers’ championship and Ferrari topped the constructors’ table.

Leclerc knew he had a good shot at the 2022 title and was brimming with confidence. But his season soon came apart at the seams. Leclerc was left frustrated time and time again as bad luck, questionable strategy calls and reliability problems saw his early championship advantage evaporate before his eyes.

The driver continued to back the team but by the Belgian Grand Prix in August, Leclerc had accepted his title hopes were over. Max Verstappen duly clinched the crown in Japan.

Red Bull looked unstoppable towards the back end of the season, and Ferrari needed to come back stronger for 2023. But a year on from his Melbourne high, Leclerc’s start to the new season could hardly be more of a disappointment.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2022
Leclerc triumphed in Melbourne 12 months ago…
“It’s definitely the worst start to a season ever,” Leclerc lamented, cutting a lonely figure as he addressed the media after the Australian Grand Prix. His race lasted precisely three corners.

“At turn three, I wasn’t planning an overtake at first on Lance Stroll,” explained Leclerc. “Then I saw he had to brake very early because Fernando Alonso was braking early.

“I released the brakes and put myself alongside Lance, and then Fernando had to brake even more. Lance found himself between me and Fernando, and he couldn’t turn in and we had contact. I’m not pointing the finger at Lance because I think he just had no choice. It’s just extremely frustrating.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

It was his second retirement in three rounds. At the season-opener he was heard shouting “no power” on his radio in Bahrain as his Ferrari ground to a halt. The team had identified a fault on Sunday morning in Bahrain with the control electronics and changed them, but this failed to prevent a stoppage which ruined his first race and compromised the next one.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2023
…but was eliminated on lap one this year
Ferrari had no option but to change the components for a third time triggering a 10-place grid penalty in Jeddah. From his compromised starting position he recovered seventh place for his only points of the season so far.

Three races in, Leclerc lies tenth in the standings, Ferrari fourth behind Mercedes in the constructors – a stark difference to this time last season.

At 25, the same age as Verstappen, Leclerc should be in the prime of his career. He has proved time and time again he can be the fastest driver over a single lap and has racked up 18 pole positions. Yet since partnering with Ferrari in 2019, he has just five wins to his name.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

That conversion rate of pole positions to wins leaves a lot to be desired. Driver errors account for only a minority of Leclerc’s lost wins: Ferrari had more than their fair share of slip-ups. Last year alone Spain, Monaco and Azerbaijan were among the clearest examples of lost wins.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Bahrain engine failure left him mired in the midfield in Jeddah
Ferrari reacted to last year’s disappointment by replacing its team principal Mattia Binotto. Frederic Vasseur arrived from Sauber to take over the top job and made an eye-catching change by moving head of strategy Inaki Rueda to a different role in the factory, with Ravin Jain assuming the high-pressure role on the pit wall.

Leclerc signed a five-year deal at the end of 2019 which will keep him at Ferrari until the end of next year. Given his torrid start to the season, you’d be forgiven for thinking motivation could be low with Leclerc, but not according to Vasseur.

“I have absolutely no doubt about the motivation of Charles,” he insisted. “For sure the start of the season is not ideal at all. We had the DNF in Bahrain and then the penalty in Jeddah, and the DNF in Melbourne. For sure it was not at all the plan, but the motivation is still there.”

Vasseur and Leclerc worked together at Sauber until 2019. “I have a good relationship with Charles,” he continued. “This won’t affect the mood for sure.”

He sympathised with the dejected reactions of Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr in Australia. “When [the media] are jumping on Charles or Carlos in the TV pen 30 seconds after the race, they can’t be happy and I would be very frustrated if they were relaxed and happy with the situation.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“The most important for me is to keep everybody motivated, pushing in the same direction, and they are supporting the team. The motivation is not an issue at all. For sure the results are not the results expected, but we all know that.”

Vasseur has “no doubt about the motivation of Charles”
Ferrari are not deluding themselves over their lack of pace at the start of the season, said Vasseur. “The mood of the team is incredibly good for the level of result that we have. I think everybody is very motivated, very focussed.

“The drivers, they are very supportive with us and the mood of the team is more than good. For sure we don’t have the result that we are expecting, but we are all working together to improve the situation.”

But Leclerc has not won since the Austrian Grand Prix 14 races ago and is acutely aware the team “need to find more pace.”

Ferrari still have plenty of time before the end of Leclerc’s current contract to turn things around and make it an easy decision for him to remain with the team. But the process of doing that needs to begin with the changes Vasseur is making now.

In order to show Leclerc they are capable of delivering a championship-winning season, the next few months will be crucial for Ferrari. As things stand, he admits he is yet to have a sufficiently clean weekend in order to tell just how competitive the team really are at the moment.

“For now instead of thinking of long-term targets just finishing a race without any penalties or issues is the priority,” said Leclerc after Australia. “Getting some momentum and seeing what’s possible.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

News Focus

Browse all News Focus articles

Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

18 comments on “Why Ferrari have “no doubt” dire start to 2023 hasn’t affected Leclerc’s motivation”

  1. Does Charles’s dire driving affect the motivation of the car design department?

    1. It shouldn’t he maximises the pace of their design. As compared to a safer and slower driver who underperforms on pace constantly (aka Sainz)

      1. @todfod It’s always hard to say one way or another as there is only one comparison. Even so, the difference between them – while usually in Leclerc’s favour in the races – isn’t huge.

        1. I think it’s usually quite huge. He’s been 10 seconds or more up on his teammate on numerous racedays. Even at the British GP last year (Sainz’z only win), Leclerc was a few tenths a lap faster than him despite having a broken wing. I honestly can’t remember a race weekend where Sainz has dominated Leclerc, but there are plenty of examples to Leclerc dominating Sainz on entire race weekends.

    2. Hm, really? So far this season the reason he did not score much was down to the car giving up, no?

      Maybe not the excellent best driving from him at times so far, but then the car is also not quite up there, so we cannot compare that directly to what he achieved last year (when he was helped a lot too by RBR having tech issues)

      1. The car let down Charles in Bahrain.

        Charles let down the car in Australia.

        If one had a dire start, so did the other.

  2. Ferrari’s start to the season is labeled “dire”, but they’re 4th in the WCC, and that’s more of a reflection of Leclerc’s Bahrain DNF than an accurate representation of their pace. Fair; they shouldn’t DNF in race 1, but it sometimes happens (ask Red Bull). If Ferrari is “dire”, what is Williams doing with all of 1 point? What’s Renault – on of the biggest manufacturers in the world – doing with a grand total of 8 points?

    Leclerc wasn’t “mired in the midfield” in Saudi Arabia, he was 5th by lap 14 and stopped just before the safety car came out – which hugely benefited Verstappen and Hamilton who had up till then been behind. Leclerc’s big mistake that race was not passing Sainz, instead meekly following him around from lap 22 through 50. That was not good, and we’ll never know if Leclerc would have been able to put pressure on those up ahead because of it. Again, Ferrari is too precious about a slow Sainz and Leclerc was not forceful enough about it.

    The less said about Australia the better.

  3. IfImnotverymuchmistaken
    17th April 2023, 20:01

    As I recall, an old F1 rule says that when a driver’s motivation is mentioned, the said driver has already signed for another team.

    1. I feel it’s inevitable that Leclerc will move to Mercedes once Hamilton retires. If I had to predict, the 2025 grid will have Max-Lando at Red Bull, George-Charles at Mercedes and maybe Sainz-Piastri at Ferrari.

      1. @todfod With that line up Merc will make me a fan of them, which has always been unthinkable for me.

    2. Hasn’t happened to Hamilton yet, despite numerous articles on that note. It’s just the normal way the media talks about a good driver that can’t fight for wins. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Some drivers are loyal to a team (or manufacturer), most only care about the team to the extent that they provide a car with which they hope to win their driver’s title. So the only thing worth looking at is what their options are, not whether or not they’re motivated or their car is becoming more competitive.

      Given the lack of Verstappen-level talents on the grid, Ferrari would be well served by keeping Leclerc around until something better does come up. At the same time, though – let’s not lose sight of how Leclerc himself has performed in now five (!) seasons at Ferrari. It’s not just Ferrari that lacks some performance, Leclerc himself needs to step up too, and assert himself both on and off track.

      1. You can’t compare tiny boy Leclerc motivation with today’s Sir Lewis Hamilton, the 7-time World Champion. He saw it all. If you want to make a fair comparison think about “I’ll stay with McLaren forever” attitude that slowly started to crack during 2011-2012 seasons.

  4. Coventry Climax
    17th April 2023, 20:34

    To win races, your horse shouldn’t be prancing; it should be running, and for all it’s worth.
    Somehow though, with Ferrari, that’s been lacking. There’s always something prancing somewhere, and for so many years now that any driver there will eventually lose faith and motivation.

  5. It couldn’t affect his motuvation because that was already at an alltime low?

    1. Ahah, good one, I’m afraid the winning days for ferrari are over (talking about championships, I think they will always be in contention for the odd win) now that red bull and merc are well established and I think he should move to one of those 2 teams if he gets a chance to do so.

  6. To be honest i was surprised by “Please think about the championship points” last year in Brazil. It shows how important it is for Leclerc to achieve at least second place in the championship. Second is the first loser but still it’s big career achievement. I may be wrong but i have a feeling Leclerc fears that coming second can be his all career high-peak result so it’s better to have it.

    I remember Vettel being so depressed about losing to Button in 2009, as he later explained he thought this could the last time he was fighting for the title.

    1. I remember Vettel being so depressed about losing to Button in 2009, as he later explained he thought this could the last time he was fighting for the title.

      Interesting you mentioned that.. I always remember Red Bull claiming that 2009 was not going to be their year, and that all their focus was on 2010 onwards. So, it looked like Webber and Vettel were just having fun that entire season, picking up a few wins and prepping for next season. That season looked over after the first 7 races.

      1. It certainly looked over but after that Button didn’t win a single race. Two races before the end Vettel was still in the game. Button was rather overcautious on managing his lead and Vettel was in the hunt, at least mathematically.

        No one back then could really predict Red Bull isn’t one year wonder. Even with Newey on board it was still midfield mentality team. Honda in 2008 barely grabbed some points. Red Bull looked worse than Toro Rosso. They skillfully interpreted the rules, but everybody expected Ferrari and McLaren to come back.

Comments are closed.