Charles Leclerc’s brilliant drive from the back row to P5 in Montreal not only earned him useful points, but also the Driver of the Day award. But could he have finished even higher? We analyzed the pair of crucial challenges that cost Leclerc in Canada and tried to estimate how much better he would have done without them.
After Leclerc’s power unit failure in Azerbaijan, the championship contender received a host of new power unit items including control electronics, MGU-H and MGU-K, turbocharger and exhaust. He essentially sat out Q2 on Saturday, which put him 19th on the grid alongside suspended AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda.
Starting on hard tyres, the Monegasque racer moved up to P13 on lap 10 thanks to passes from Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll. Leclerc opted to forgo a stop during the Virtual Safety Car period of laps 9-10, making it to P6 before pitting on lap 41, having trailed Esteban Ocon’s Alpine for 20 laps.
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The mid-race fight with Ocon
Alpine’s Ocon proved to be the first hurdle for Leclerc’s recovery drive.
Leclerc came close to passing the Frenchman on lap 25, but despite towing and DRS, he was unable to pass Ocon.
Our follow-up to the race (below) explains why Leclerc was unable to make what would have been a crucial pass; the Ferrari driver ended up losing nearly 10 seconds to the car ahead of Ocon, George Russell’s Mercedes, as he was stuck just behind the Alpine from lap 25 onwards.
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Focusing solely on the speed of both Leclerc (red line) and Ocon (blue line), it is clear that Leclerc was losing pace in the corners. He suffered understeer in the apexes, and then tried to compensate for that by hitting the throttle earlier.
Hitting the throttle earlier, Leclerc faced oversteer on the exit of the corner, leaving him too far behind Ocon to use Ferrari’s top speed advantage on Canada’s relatively short straights.
The lap 41 pit stop
Stuck behind Ocon for more than 15 laps, Leclerc decided to pit at the end of his 41st lap, swapping his hard compounds for medium. That pit stop proved costly.
Entering pit lane sixth, Leclerc started 12th, having spent 5.31 seconds standing still, and his car was left off the jacks with the left rear tire still not fitted properly. The Ferrari driver then found himself struggling behind a train of cars from P8 to P11: Lance Stroll, Zhou Guanyu, Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo.
In fact, if Leclerc had had a quicker stop, even the same 3.17-second stop that his teammate Carlos Sainz had enjoyed 20 laps earlier, he would have come out ahead of the car train and would have had the pace to challenge Leclerc. Valtteri Bottas for seventh place long before the Safety Car on lap 49.
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If Leclerc hadn’t been caught behind that train of cars, he would not only have had the pace to pass Bottas, he would have made time for the Ocon Alps and Fernando Alonso ahead. Instead, the Alpines enjoyed a free stop under the Safety Car on lap 49, which put them both on newer tires and made them a much more severe challenge for Leclerc.
The Ferrari driver passed Alonso on lap 58, four laps after the race resumed, and took fifth place from Ocon on lap 60. But by then George Russell was almost four seconds ahead and the Briton he finished fourth by the checkered flag.
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It’s reasonable to assume that Leclerc would have been able to challenge the Mercedes driver with a quicker stop on lap 41, but challenging Lewis Hamilton for the podium might have been overkill.
However, had Leclerc not lost 10 seconds to Russell in his mid-race battle with Ocon, that podium chase would have been much easier, and P3 would have been a realistic target on Sunday.