2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #4: Charles Leclerc

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For the opening rounds of 2022, Charles Leclerc was a genuine championship contender for the first time in his Formula 1 career.

With two wins from the opening three rounds and a healthy lead in the drivers’ championship, Leclerc had every reason to expect he would be fighting for the world championship over the year.

But Ferrari’s title challenge coughed, spluttered and died over the following months as Red Bull and Max Verstappen went on a rampage, taking both titles with ease. Leclerc had to regroup and refocus on the following season and hope he could renew his campaign for a championship in 2023.

This year, Leclerc’s bid for a world title never got going. He fell from second in the drivers’ standings the year before to fifth in 2023 without a single victory to his name – unlike his team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr. But although it was another season filled with frustration and false hope, Leclerc could look back on his year knowing that he had could be proud of the work he had done, both in and outside of the cockpit.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Leclerc capitalised brilliantly on Ferrari’s strong Baku form
While his 2022 season had begun so strongly, Leclerc never had the chance to convince himself he was in with any chance of fighting Verstappen for the title this season. Over the opening three rounds, Leclerc managed to score just six points – his worst start to a season since his debut for Sauber. But it was largely in spite of his performance in the car, rather than because of it.

He deserved a podium in the opening race of the season in Bahrain, only for his power unit to fail with 17 laps remaining while running third behind the two Red Bulls. Incredibly, he was forced to take a grid penalty for power unit components in only the second round of 22 in Jeddah, dropping him from the front row of the grid to 12th. Despite that, he recovered to finish in seventh just behind Sainz after being faster than his team mate over the weekend. Melbourne, however, was a disaster. Ferrari’s tactics let him down in qualifying, leaving him seventh on the grid, and he lasted just three corners before spinning out after clipping Lance Stroll under braking.

Already, Leclerc’ season looked like a write-off. But then, something about the city streets of Baku made the SF-23 sing and Leclerc stormed to a stunning pole position in Friday’s qualifying session, becoming the first driver to beat the Red Bulls in any competitive session all year. He backed this up with pole in sprint qualifying – despite hitting the wall – but his Ferrari simply didn’t have the pace to keep up with the Red Bulls in race trim. Second in the sprint race and a podium in the grand prix was as good as he could ever have hoped for and showed that Leclerc had lost none of his driving prowess when his car was up to it.

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But after a sublime weekend in Baku, Leclerc followed it up with one of his worst weekends as a Ferrari drivers in Miami. He crashed at turn seven on Friday, then made an identical error to find the same barriers during qualifying to leave him in seventh. Then in the race, he genuinely struggled to clear Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and finished where he started in seventh, admitting later that he was simply trying to get his car to the finish.

One of the more serious problems Leclerc struggled with through the season was, like in 2022, poor communication with his team and race engineer Xavier Marcos Padros. That bit him hard at his home grand prix at Monaco as Leclerc ended up blocking Lando Norris in Q3, completely unaware that there had been any cars on a quick lap behind him. As a result, Leclerc dropped from third on the grid to sixth, which ruined his hopes of a home podium before the race even began.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023
Damp conditions caused Leclerc trouble early in the year
A long run of rounds affected by rain caused Leclerc particular problems. Whenever he had to fit intermediate tyres, he seemed to lose drastically more speed than his team mate. This resulted in him being eliminated in Q1 in Spain and finishing outside of the points, then missing Q2 in Montreal in another wet qualifying session but recovering to fourth in the race.

He was back on form in Austria as he only just missed out on pole in grand prix qualifying. He should have started third in the sprint race but, again, was penalised for impeding Oscar Piastri before falling back on the damp track conditions as he struggled again in intermediate conditions. But he fought hard in the grand prix to challenge Verstappen and managed to do so for the most part, but the Red Bull was always going to inevitably demote him to second.

Charles Leclerc

GP start1 (x5)19
GP finish2 (x3)11

Ferrari appeared to lose ground compared to their rivals in the middle phase of the season and it wasn’t until just before the summer break at Spa-Francorchamps where the long straights allowed Leclerc to return to the front of the field. He inherited pole from Verstappen in the grand prix but lost the lead to Sergio Perez early on. While having to work hard to save fuel during the race, he managed to keep his pace up and hold off Lewis Hamilton to claim third and head into the break on a high.

Leclerc’s second half of the season was more consistent and impressive than the first, although it did not get off to the best start at Zandvoort. He crashed out of Q3 in the wet conditions and suffered damage from a lap one touch with Piastri that crippled his car’s downforce so much he was eventually pulled in to retire on lap 42. He recovered from that setback in the next weekend at Monza, however, but while he was involved in the thick of the action at the front as Ferrari pushed Red Bull harder than they had all season, he was out-performed by Sainz over the weekend and settled for fourth.

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Singapore ended up being his best opportunity for victory as Red Bull lost their unstoppable pace for a sole weekend. However, a small error at turn 17 on his final Q3 lap allowed Sainz to beat him to pole position. Looking to play the team game, Leclerc agreed to work in favour of Sainz to give Ferrari the best chance of victory. He jumped George Russell at the start and allowed Sainz to build a gap, but while Sainz ultimately ran out front Leclerc began to fade away in the latter stages to finish in fourth.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Interlagos, 2023
Dire luck ruined Leclerc’s weekend in Brazil
But while Sainz was the one who took victory for Ferrari in Singapore, that would be the last time Leclerc allowed his team mate to beat him in 2023. Between Suzuka and Abu Dhabi, Leclerc was the lead Ferrari in every grand prix qualifying session and race on Sundays. In Japan, where McLaren were clearly the faster team, Leclerc was incredibly strong over the weekend and overtook Russell for his third fourth-place finish in a row.

He stuck his Ferrari on pole again in Friday qualifying at Circuit of the Americas and pushed Verstappen hard at the start of the sprint race before being rudely rebuffed. Although his one stop strategy was the wrong call and he faded to sixth by the flag, it didn’t matter – he was disqualified after the race for excessive plank wear. At least he returned to the podium the next weekend in Mexico, finishing third after securing his second straight pole position.

Leclerc was back on the front row in Brazil, taking second behind Verstappen in a manic end to Q3. But he was cruelly denied the chance to even start the grand prix after his car suffered an electrical failure on the formation lap, sending him skidding into the barriers in the most embarrassing moment of the season.

In Las Vegas, Leclerc shone. He secured his fifth and final pole of the season and although he didn’t quite have the pace of the Red Bulls, he gave as good as he got from them. His last lap overtake on Perez to take back second was one of the most memorable moves of the year and it was hard not to lament how many potential duels between Verstappen and Leclerc there could have been this season had things panned out differently.

Heading into the final round in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari had an opportunity to steal second place from Mercedes. Although they were ultimately unsuccessful, Leclerc gave his team the best chance possible with another excellent weekend running behind Verstappen at every turn. He even had the presence of mind in the closing laps to play strategy by letting Perez through to try and help him slot in front of Russell after the Red Bull’s post-race penalty was applied. Although it did not work, it was another demonstration of Leclerc’s acute racing acumen.

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Although it had not been the year Leclerc had hoped for, he was clearly one of the top-performing drivers by the end of the season. In the final five rounds, he never started off the front row of the grid and finished on the podium in every round he was classified in as well as comfortably beating Sainz in all major metrics.

Rumours are abound that Leclerc is set to sign another beefy contract extension at Maranello. With performances like he had in 2023, it’s not hard to see why Ferrari want to keep him around.

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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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41 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #4: Charles Leclerc”

  1. Will, please you can stop this madness before it’s too late
    The guy ranked below him was indicted for his performance without acknowledging the car but the one ranked above him is actively praised for his performance “in spite” of the car. You’re even using the dreaded “deserved” word.

    Please snap out of it, there’s no consistency in this train of logic

    1. Absolutely. If that’s the case for Leclerc, Sainz really should be ranked higher. A lot of these rankings have a very subjective bias towards rep. Leclerc is highly regarded, so hes always going to rank well. Sainz is not, so even when he puts in stunning performances, its not as impressive.

      On another note, rain is the great barometer of the F1 greats (yes, I know car performance still matters), but Leclerc has never had a great wet race (or even qualifying), and worse often goes backwards. Can he really be regarded to be in the same league as Hamilton, Alonso, and Verstappen?

      1. I think I agree, sainz should be way closer to leclerc than he is, and maybe a combination of both, say leclerc a little lower and sainz a little higher.

      2. Oh, but about wet weather, prost was not good in the wet, so there can be exceptions.

        1. I am inclined to say no exceptions. The jury is still out on Prosts level.

      3. I disagree leclerc was driving in 2022 monaco grand prix in rain and leading the pack also this year monaco grand prix sainz spun in the rain not leclerc you are just biased against charles

      4. Remember turkish grandprix 2020, Imola 2021 had it not been for the red flag he would finish 2nd and turkish grandprix 2021 when kept same pace with max and bottas an he was on the podium until he thought about winning and Ferrari slapped with their awful strategy just cuz he had some bad wet races in 2023 season you deem him as bad driver in the wet conditions <blockquote

    2. I agree in the overall ranking Sainz should be close(r) to Leclerc, so that would make the top spots (imho) VER, ALO, NOR, LEC, SAI.

  2. Oh Charles Leclerc. You have champion written all over you. Leclerc and Ferrari feel like a match made in Heaven. It’s amazing to think it’s so long ago he crushed the opposition on his way to the 2017 F2 title, and made me a very happy Formula 1 fan when he utterly dominated at Sauber in 2018, finally sending Marcus Ericsson packing.

    In 2019 he one of the very few drivers Ferrari promoted to the main team in such a short time. Facing up against 4 time world champion Sebastian Vettel was his biggest test yet. Despite early season team orders, he quickly won over the Scuderia and the Tifosi by being the more impressive driver.

    And yet… five years later, all that promise hasn’t come to fruition. Having to endure two frustrating seasons (20-21), seemingly waiting for the right time, the beginning of 2022 was a false dawn, before 2023 was yet another ‘waiting game’. Yet, somehow, Leclerc is closing in on the 2nd in all time pole positions for Ferrari. It seems to sum up his career, so much unfulfilled potential.

    However, all is not so bleak. Leclerc’s end of season form, coinciding with a noticeable improvement at Ferrari, under the cool head of Fred Vasseur, seems to indicate that the team is indeed on the up. If they can challenge Red Bull for pole, how long before they can challenge for race wins?

    Perhaps the most worrying thing about this season was races like Barcelona, where, when the pace wasn’t there, it seemed Charles didn’t emotionally turn up. When you’re fighting in a championship battle, you need to maximise every point, every opportunity, every crumb to come your way. And by being at full pelt in the season’s where you don’t have a winning car is how you prepare for that. Max Verstappen, maximising every lap in 2019 and 2020, led to his 2021 campaign, and perhaps the same could be said of Hamilton in 2012-2013 – or even Vettel in 2009.

    If Charles Leclerc and Ferrari do indeed become the greatest competitors against Red Bull and Max Verstappen in the coming seasons, it will definitely feel like a most worthy and deserving combination.

  3. Despite his tendency to make big errors and despite being s McLaren I love watching Charles Leclerc try and manhandle his caar in qualy . Leclerc is the kind of driver you want to be at Grand Prix in person to watch . His pole lap in Vegas was a thrill ride. He is a definitely a showman.

    1. What big errors? Miami qualifying, okay. Pretty much every driver except Max has made errors but for some reason Leclerc is always singled out by commentators.

  4. Another ranking based on should have, could have, would have…

  5. I appreciate the summary, but the twists and turns required to hype up Leclerc are a bit much.

    His collision in Australia, poor pace in Canada and Austria, woeful qualifying in Spain, crashes and tangles in the Netherlands, losing out to Sainz in Singapore, letting himself get pushed aside in Las Vegas, which Verstappen happily repeated in Abu Dhabi, a lack of initiative on changing his engineer, and he’s now closing in on the unenviable record of poles not converted to wins. Furthermore, it took till the very last few races for him to outscore Sainz.

    Negative? Sure, but the above article reads a lot like wanting Leclerc to be ranked 3rd rather than having an abundance of reasons to do so. Even the mentioned imagined duel between Verstappen and Leclerc happened, in that very race as well as in the next one! In both cases, Verstappen brushed Leclerc aside as if he was barely worth his attention.

    1. You accuse Will of twists and turns then proceed to do the same twice as bad. You’d even managed to get the placing wrong since you said “justify 3rd” while Will placed him fourth.

      Now some of the things you said are relevant but don’t preclude him being ranked 4th since drivers below him, and even ahead also had their share of trials and tribulations apart from MV. Others, aren’t even relevant:

      Canada and Austria: Ferrari’s pace was woeful in Canada qualy and Austria race respectively not Leclerc. He was still faster than Sainz.

      Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi: He was trying not to get hit by Mad Max who had nothing to lose in both in order to get Ferrari P2 in WCC. If he hadn’t moved out of the way they would’ve collided both times losing Ferrari any chance of P2. His racecraft was fantastic in both Vegas and Abu Dhabi as well as his pace and racing brain. Don’t forget, without luckily timed safety car for Max Leclerc would’ve won Vegas easily. He also overtook both Red Bulls on track there. So in fact, those 2 races prove the exact opposite of what you’re trying to say.

      He destroyed his team-mate in qualifying and in the races. Points gap is misleading because of external circumstances. For most of the season Leclerc was faster than Sainz in both qualy AND race pace

      So, we’re left with: Australia, Miami, Spain, Netherlands. Oh and Singapore where he was slightly slower than Sainz but did contribute to Ferrari’s win selflessly. This is in the ball park of those around him in the 2-5 drivers group. They all had great seasons but they all had mistakes and weekends that didn’t go to plan. It’s nip and tuck between Alonso, Norris, Leclerc and Hamilton. You could legitimately swap him with LH say, but putting him in front is also valid.

      1. That’s the point; there’s a lot of interpretation that happens when judging and ranking drivers. That’s why I noted it was (overly) negative. I appreciate that ranking is ultimately a bit arbitrary as it’s pretty obvious that the drivers are better grouped in tiers and the difference between 4 and 8 might not be the same as between 16 and 20.

        But there are some drivers, Leclerc among them, who seem to get glowing reviews that are a bit much whereas others are presented as a list of all their (perceived) wrongdoings. A sentence like this illustrates that nicely: “Leclerc had lost none of his driving prowess when his car was up to it. But after a sublime weekend in Baku, Leclerc followed it up with one of his worst weekends as a Ferrari drivers [sic] in Miami.” Okay…

        I like Leclerc, he’s fun to watch wrangle his car in qualifying. He’s a charming guy. But he’s also a frustrating driver to follow as someone partial to Ferrari. Poles are not wins. Complaining about his race engineer (as in Saudi Arabia) is no good if that doesn’t lead to changes. Trailing Sainz in points for as long as he did is, ultimately, just not good enough.

        As for praising Leclerc for losing to Verstappen twice in the last races because he was careful a bit odd given that winning one of those races would have put Ferrari in P2, whereas the safe finishes Leclerc had did not. It’s an approach that might have merit if he’s defending a title lead, but Ferrari was trailing Mercedes all season. That’s a time for risks, not for clever schemes that end up not working out. Also: letting Verstappen bully him out of the way hasn’t ever worked for him. It didn’t work in Austria in 2019, and it didn’t work in 2023 either. Fighting back does; as he himself also demonstrated, particularly in 2019 and 2022.

        1. don’t worry soon he will win wdc in a season with many rain races then all your points again him will no longer hold true

  6. I think the ranking is a bit off. There are 3 places left, nr 3, nr 2 and nr 1. But we have 4 drivers who need to have a place in the ranking: Alonso, Sainz, Norris and Verstappen….

  7. Man, you guys must’ve had one hell of a workout trying to pull off all the mental gymnastics to put not just Leclerc over Hamilton, but also Russell over Sainz.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right

  8. I like Leclerc but this is madness.
    He wasn’t better than Hamilton this season not even in his wildest dreams.

    In fact, it’s a trend on these rankings year after year, Leclerc too high, Sainz too low.
    Sainz was terrible in ’22, but pretty comparable this season, yet he’s ranked worse than Russell and Leclerc better than Hamilton. Go figure..

    1. Leclerc was better than Hamilton in 2023.

      1. he beat a driver who was worse than Hamilton’s teammate (according to this ranking) by 5 points only.
        Try harder next time.

        1. I’ll try harder, Leclerc has always been better

          1. Noted, now go play with your toys.

      2. I would have put Hamilton ahead of Leclerc. Both made mistakes (as did Alonso) but Hamilton was the only driver to seriously challenge the RB rocket for P2.

    2. Agreed.

      This type of ranking is always subjective. IMHO, Ham and Lec had overall relatively similar performance in 2023, so 4-5 or5-4, I can live with it. But Sainz 9, so far away and Russel is completely off. And it’s a bit of a trends here.

      1. ** But Sainz 9, so far away from Leclerc and behind Russel (who had a very average year) is completely off

    3. How many poles and front row starts has Sir Lewis Hamilton had this year?

  9. As I expected knowing who were remaining after #5 & I expect the top 3 order to be VER-NOR-ALO.

    1. As I expected knowing who were remaining after #5 & I expect the top 3 order to be VER-NOR-ALO.

      I could support that order from those three on the basis of who got the most out of the available performance of the car:
      #3 Verstappen
      #2 Norris
      #1 Alonso

  10. Leclerc needs a new race engineer now. You could tell Xavi was a deer in the headlights with strategy, communication and finding speed. I don’t know why Ferrari persist with him but he’s nowhere near good enough to coach an F3 driver, never mind Leclerc.

  11. Leclerc needs a new race engineer now.

    Unless Ferrari, somehow, pull themselves away from the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, I think he needs a new team.

  12. AMuS rated Ferrari the 2nd quickest car overall, yet Leclerc was beaten in the driver standings by Lewis and Fernando in slower cars. So, how on earth has Will convinced himself Charles deserves P4 in his ratings? The sooner keith takes back over doing these ratings, the better. I think Will is out of his depth.

    1. That’s was rated on qualy pace I assume.

    2. That*

    3. But Ferrari weren’t necessarily the 2nd quickest on average as the outright speed order between them, Mclaren, Mercedes, & AMR varied throughout the season.

      1. So, there was no clear 2nd quickest car…..Merc, Ferrari, McLaren and AM all had periods of being the 2nd quickest car yet Charles finishes lower in the standings than two other drivers in similar paced cars yet is still ranked highly by Will in P4? Doesn’t make sense. But not surprising…it’s well known that Will has a soft spot Charles.

        1. Well, one of the drivers you mention is alonso and is gonna be ranked ahead, 3rd or more likely 2nd, so the only real problem is hamilton behind leclerc and that’s just 1 position.

          I agree he should be ahead of him though.

  13. Leclerc and Norris shouldn’t be above Hamilton in the the rankings here in my opinion.

  14. Can’t agree with that. I thought Charles had just a truly unremarkable year. A few poles and that’s it basically. The one race he knew he had to put it on pole to be able to win was Singapore, and he let Carlos beat him. Sorry, not top 5 material for me. Hamilton should be higher (2-3) and I think there’s even a case to be made for Albon and Carlos to be higher than Charles.

  15. yeah, not really going to care who takes #2, all i know is I cant actually off the top of my head think who #3 is, after looking at the top 10, so Im just gonna pass on the rest.

  16. Not a great year, so 4th is a bit generous for Charles. But then again, not so sure who fared better than Charles over a season from the drivers behind him… Albon or Sainz maybe?

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