Is Charles Leclerc really an “Unreliable Driver”? A Deep Dive
By Grace Crispin
A spin in practice at the 2 Belgian Grand Prix led to former Minardi, BAR and Super Aguri driver Anthony Davidson branding Charles Leclerc as an “unreliable driver”.
With Leclerc and Ferrari looking to win championships, mistakes must be avoided at all costs, especially when battling against the likes of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
The Ferrari driver’s season has been completely undone by both his own mistakes and those of his team, but do the mistakes he’s made in his Formula One career really grant him this title?
“Charles Leclerc 2022” by Wastrick is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
The Downfall of the 2022 Season
The 2022 Formula One season started perfectly for Ferrari and Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque won pole in Bahrain and convincingly converted it to a win, with late Red Bull issues helping Ferrari to a solid 1 – 2 finish in the opening race.
The race in Jeddah, though resulting in a second place finish, was also positive for Leclerc. In fact, the many duels between Leclerc and eventual winner Max Verstappen showed his true racing ability.
Australia would see Leclerc complete the first grand slam of his F1 career. The Monegasque won from pole, leading every lap as well as claiming the fastest lap. Though Red Bull were once again plagued by their early reliability issues, Leclerc still maintained his lead through a safety car restart, something Verstappen can be notoriously hard to defend from.
However, after his heroics at Albert Park, Leclerc’s season entered a steady downfall.
Imola was the first instance of a Leclerc mistake this season. After coming second to Verstappen in the sprint race, Leclerc still had a shot to grab a big haul of points from the front row. However, in a split moment, his need to close in on the Red Bulls, the Monegasque spun. Leclerc prevented race-ending damage to his car, but after pitting for a new front wing, the best he could get was a frustrating sixth place
Miami saw him slip to second from pole, but overall the weekend in Miami was considered successful. The trip to Spain, on the other hand, saw the Monegasque’s luck, or lack thereof rear its head.
Even after a small spin ruined his first Q3 run in qualifying, Leclerc managed to pull out a sparkling lap on his only other run to win pole. Leclerc managed to avoid any opening lap drama and was pulling out a lead, looking likely to take a comfortable win, especially with Verstappen’s DRS issue. Then the Ferrari reliability issues entered the fray, forcing Leclerc to retire from the lead with a power unit problem, meaning the Monegasque couldn’t shoulder any of the blame.
The historic Monaco Grand Prix was next, a race, despite being his home one, Leclerc is notoriously poor at. However, despite the fabled “Monaco curse”, Leclerc managed to put his Ferrari on pole, slightly aided by Sergio Perez’s crash in Q3 preventing himself, Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen from setting an improved time. With a track like Monaco, difficult (near impossible) to overtake, this also seemed like a race in the bag for Leclerc. Though a pit strategy mistake by Ferrari which saw them double stack Sainz and Leclerc, saw Leclerc finally finish his home race, but in fourth rather than the coveted first.
Leclerc’s poor run would then get even worse with the trip to Baku. Once again the Monegasque put his Ferrari on pole and evaded any drama in the opening. And once again, the Ferrari had to retire, this time with an engine blowout. Another retirement through no fault of his own.
The problems in Baku led to a whole new power unit for Leclerc in Montreal, meaning the Monegasque would be starting from the back of the grid. Leclerc managed to make his way through the field despite being stuck in a DRS train, something more prevalent under the new regulations. Leclerc picked up a fifth place finish, earning a good haul of points in spite of the reliability issues forcing him to start from the back.
A wet qualifying led to Leclerc to start from the second row, but issues for Verstappen and his overall pace advantages over Sainz saw Leclerc take the lead at Silverstone. A safety car however, highlighted another Ferrari strategy faux pas, when they declined to make the split decision to pit Leclerc, leaving the Monegasque vulnerable on older tires and unable to stop the rampage from behind him. In spite of this, Leclerc put up an impressive defence but eventually had to settle for fourth when a better call from the pit wall would’ve at least put him in contention for the win.
Leclerc returned to the top of the podium in Austria, but there were remnants of some Ferrari drama from Silverstone. In the sprint race, there was tension between Sainz and Leclerc who, while busy battling each other, allowed Verstappen to charge to the win. This was especially odd as the main race showcased just how fast the Ferrari was around the Red Bull Ring.
The Grand Prix at Paul Ricard was one to forget for Leclerc and the scene of his other major mistake this season. While increasing his lead from pole, Leclerc spun and found himself in the tyre barrier and his rival Verstappen a clear shot at another win. The Monegasque took responsibility in his interviews following the race, but is accountability enough when challenging for a Championship?
Hungary was another example of Ferrari’s less than ideal strategy calls, this time with tyre choices. Leclerc had managed to work his way up to the front of the race from third, with an amazing overtake on pole sitter George Russell. However, this all came crashing down when Ferrari called for Leclerc to box and put him on the hard tyres, which had already proven as a bad option for others throughout the race. The Monegasque was unable to get up to pace on the slower tyres, he was left in a measly sixth, once again, through no real fault of his own.
Spa, like Canada, would see Leclerc demoted to the back of the grid due to engine changes. However, this time he would have considerable company, including his title rival Verstappen. A rogue visor tear-off would severely impede his charge from 15th, forcing Leclerc into an early pit stop. The Ferrari was lacking some pace around Spa already, but Leclerc managed to push himself into a solid fifth, with 20 seconds between him and Fernando Alonso in sixth. Ferrari, despite Leclerc’s calls not to, called him into the pits for soft tyres to go for the fastest lap. However, the pit stop put him out behind Alonso and the overheating due to the tear-off affected the speed monitor leading to Leclerc going one kilometre over the speed limit. This left Leclerc with a five second penalty, resulting in him losing his fifth place.
Zandvoort saw Leclerc make a return to the podium with a third place finish behind a dominant Verstappen and George Russell. The drama of the race for once did not revolve around the Monegasque, in fact it aided him somewhat. When the safety car was brought out for Bottas on lap 55, Leclerc followed Verstappen and Russell, but most importantly not Hamilton, into the pits for a new set of soft tyres. Mercedes’ blunder of not pitting Hamilton allowed both Russell and Leclerc to overtake and complete the podium.
The Monza magic fell on Leclerc on the Saturday, but unfortunately it was Verstappen who took all the glory on race day. Leclerc lined up on pole after his usual qualifying heroics, but once again the Ferrari’s race pace was no match for Red Bull’s. As the race continued it seemed a formality for Verstappen to take the lead, which forced Ferrari into pitting. Daniel Ricciardo’s retirement saw the race finish quite anti-climatically behind a safety car, leaving Leclerc no opportunity to fight to regain the lead.
After a hefty rain delay in Singapore, the race finally started, with Leclerc on pole. However, a good start on the drier side of the track for Perez gave him the lead going into the first turn. Leclerc maintained his second place all throughout the race, surviving a multitude of safety car restarts, but a small mistake meant he dropped two seconds and allowed Perez to extend his lead, maintaining his win after a retrospective five second penalty.
Leclerc was starting second on the grid, behind champion-elect Verstappen. A rain delay and an extremely wet start allowed the Dutchman, who is notoriously good in the wet, build a 27 second gap in only 28 laps. However, on the last lap, Perez forced Leclerc into a mistake, as the Monegasque ran deep in the Casio Triangle. This resulted in a five second penalty, meaning Leclerc’s mistake handed Verstappen the championship in Japan rather than in Austin.