Charles Leclerc’s illustrious drive from the back row to the P5 in Montreal not only earned useful points, but the Driver of the Day award as well. But could it be more than that? We look at a couple of critical challenges that cost Leclerc in Canada and try to estimate how much better he would have done without them.
After the failure of the Leclerc power unit in Azerbaijan, the contender for the championship got a set of new power unit elements including the control electronics, MGU-H and MGU-K, turbocharger and exhaust. He basically sat out in the second quarter of Saturday, putting him 19th on the grid alongside punished AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda.
Starting on solid tires, the Monegasque rider climbed to P13 by Lap 10 thanks to passes from the likes of Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll. Leclerc chose to forgo the stop during the Lap 9-10 Virtual Safety Car, making it to P6 before hovering at Lap 41 — after flying behind the Alps in Esteban Ocon for 20 laps.
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Mid-race junk with Ocon
Alpine Ocon proved to be the first obstacle to Leclerc’s recovery campaign.
Leclerc came close to overtaking the Frenchman on lap 25, but despite a drag and the DRS was unable to overtake Ocon.
Our race tracking (below) explains why Leclerc couldn’t do what would have been a critical pass; The Ferrari driver ended up losing nearly 10secs to the car in front of Ocon – Mercedes George Russell – while stuck right behind the Alps from lap 25 onwards.
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Focusing solely on the speed of both Leclerc (red line) and Ocon (blue line), it was clear that Leclerc was losing speed through corners. He experienced weakness all over the top, then tried to make up for it by getting on the throttle earlier.
By getting on the throttle early, Leclerc encountered an overtake at the corner exit – which put him too far for Ocon to take advantage of Ferrari’s top speed advantage on the relatively short tracks in Canada.
pit stop lap 41
Having been stuck behind Ocon for more than 15 laps, Leclerc decided to dig at the end of lap 41, swapping his solid compounds for the media. This hole proved to be expensive.
Coming into the sixth hole lane, Leclerc appeared 12th, having spent a steady 5.31 seconds, his car being lowered from the jacks with the left rear tire properly fitted. The Ferrari driver found himself fighting behind a train of cars from P8 to P11: Lance Stroll, Zhou Guanyu, Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo.
In fact, had Leclerc stopped faster, even that same 3.17 seconds halted that teammate Carlos Sainz had enjoyed 20 laps earlier, he would have appeared before the motor train and had the speed to challenge Valtteri Bottas for P7 long before the match. Safety car on lap 49.
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Ferrari’s Alonso passed on lap 58 – four laps after the race resumed – and knocked P5 out of Ocon on lap 60. But by then George Russell was about four seconds ahead and the Briton ended up fourth with a square flag.
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It is reasonable to assume that Leclerc was able to challenge the Mercedes driver by stopping faster on lap 41 – but Lewis Hamilton’s podium challenge may have proved to be a stretch.
However, had Leclerc not lost 10 seconds to Russell in his mid-race battle with Ocon, the podium chase would have been a lot easier – and P3 was a realistic target on Sunday.