Charles Leclerc continues to shine in 2020
Charles Leclerc has demonstrated in 2020 exactly why Ferrari have invested in him for the future as the SF1000 has fallen short of all expectations.
The 2020 season has been a disappointing season for Ferrari to say the very least. They are 6th in the Constructors’ Championship on 80 points, an enormous 311 points behind the leaders, Mercedes. The team has gone backwards rather than forwards this season and so they are now in the midfield battle with Racing Point, McLaren and Renault. Its most significant weakness is the lack of engine power produced from the SF1000, so they have had a straight-line speed deficit to their rivals throughout the season. To make matters worse, they have been unable to improve their power unit following F1’s decision to freeze engine developments for cost-savings purposes. Despite their struggles, Charles Leclerc has responded brilliantly. He is currently 8th in the Driver’s standings with 63 points, but this does not tell the full picture of his season:
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Austrian GP: Charles Leclerc qualified a lowly 7th on the grid but made up for it on race day, finishing a highly unexpected 2nd place. The key to this result was not a sudden turn of pace from the Ferrari, but taking advantage of his rival’s misfortunes. Max Verstappen retired from the race with a mechanical failure, while Alex Albon was taken out of contention following a collision with Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton was subsequently awarded a 5 second penalty. But this result was not completely handed to Leclerc, he still had to fight for it. He battled past both Lando Norris and Sergio Perez. While under normal circumstances, this result would not have been possible, Leclerc made sure he was there to capitalise on mistakes and unreliability. This was in complete contrast to team-mate Sebastian Vettel who came home with just 1 world championship point with 10th place, owing to a half-hearted attempted pass on Carlos Sainz which spun him around.
British GP: Qualifying a brilliant 4th place for Ferrari, Leclerc again put himself in the best position to pick up the pieces. He secured his second podium in four races after the tyre failure of Valtteri Bottas. Leclerc is clearly outperforming the car, putting it in places that it should not be in. Meanwhile Vettel could again only manage 10th place. His race performance was aided significantly by qualifying at the front of the grid. Starting at the sharp end of the grid means that accidents are a lot less likely as there are obviously fewer cars to contend with during the first couple of corners.
70th Anniversary GP: Leclerc rose from 8th on the grid to finish 4th. He has been single-handedly carrying the team through this difficult season by scoring vital championship points for them. Vettel did not score any points as he finished 12th after making his afternoon very difficult after he spun at the first corner of the race.
Tuscan GP: Leclerc stood out in the qualifying, putting his car in 5th, only 2 tenths away from the Red Bull of Alex Albon. While he slipped back in the race to eventually finish 8th, he is consistently giving himself the best possible opportunities to score big points on Sunday afternoons.
Eifel GP: In the most recent qualifying session, Leclerc was able to wrestle his Ferrari around the Nürburgring to start on the second row of the grid to split the Red Bull drivers. Vettel could only manage 11th on the grid for his home Grand Prix. Leclerc finished a respectable 7th and demonstrated in the race that he is willing to fight with faster cars, something that other drivers are sometimes unwilling to do. He was able to keep eventual podium-finisher Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault at bay for the opening 9 laps.
Although, it must be noted that Leclerc has made some mistakes this season which have proved costly to himself and the team:
Styrian Grand Prix: Starting 14th after receiving a 3-place grid penalty, Leclerc was desperate at the start of the race to make the most of the opportunity to move up the order. In doing so, he took both himself and Vettel out of the race when he divided up the inside of turn 2 at the last moment which meant that Vettel had no chance to take avoiding action. Naturally, accidents are a lot more common at the start of the race in the midfield as everyone is jostling for position, but Leclerc knew that a good result would be unlikely unless he did not take risks at the start as it is a track that is dominated by straights. However, he risk he took did not pay off and the result was that no points were taken away from this Grand Prix.
Italian Grand Prix: Leclerc was potentially on course to score some solid world champion points for the team, despite the car struggling for pace due to the long Monza straights. However, he lost the rear of the car under acceleration at the parabolica. Due to the high-speed nature of this corner, he was unable to recover the car and went straight into the tyre barriers. Perhaps he was pushing too hard, but in Leclerc’s defence he must push harder than he rivals to finish in strong positions. Accidents are likely to happen when a driver is consistently outperforming his car. This mistake again was costly as the team scored 0 points following Vettel’s brake failure at the first corner.
Charles Leclerc’s performances this season warrant more points than he has so far accumulated. From the outside, he seems very confident as the team leader and is able to cope very well with the inevitable pressure of Ferrari. He has been arguably more impressive this season than he was during his debut season last year. Much like Fernando Alonso did, he is squeezing every last ounce of performance from the car every weekend. The stats back this up. After 11 races, Leclerc leads Vettel 9-2 in qualifying and 6-3 in the race when both drivers have finished the Grand Prix. Leclerc has 2 podiums to Vettel’s 0 and he has 63 points to Vettel’s 17, despite having recorded one more retirement than the 4-time world champion. Charles Leclerc has starred this season, and will undoubtedly be a championship contender as soon as he has the machinery.