It is absurd that Charles Leclerc now has 23 pole positions in Formula 1 and only five wins, and just as surprising to think five of those poles came in a win-less 2023 season.
Not converting a pole into a win is possibly the most high-profile way a driver can look like a failure. Especially when people consider context an optional extra.
Leclerc suffers from this more than any F1 driver. His one-lap heroics have allowed him to consistently add to a superb pole record, but he still only has five wins, the last of which came in July 2022. That he's now 14th in the all-time list for poles but only equal 50th for victories says it all.
That pole/win mismatch does him a huge disservice and 2023 only extended this narrative. Behind Max Verstappen, Leclerc had as many pole positions as the rest of the grid combined in 2023. The Ferrari’s traits did lean towards this car being something of a qualifying special but Leclerc got the most out of that a lot more than Sainz.
In fact, Ferrari's preference for Saturdays over Sundays existed in 2022 as well. One might argue it was also the case in 2019. So this has done Leclerc dirty for a long time. Though it lends itself to a cheap, lazy argument - tailor-made for social media - that Leclerc's a choke artist, the reality is simply different.
Leclerc’s ‘failed’ 2023 pole-to-win attempts
Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Leclerc beats the Red Bulls to sprint and grand prix poles but he can’t convert either through little fault of his own.
Perez passes him in the sprint but he keeps a wounded Verstappen (from his fight with George Russell) behind him to finish second.
In the grand prix, Leclerc holds the lead until the end of lap three where Verstappen’s RB19 has cleared Leclerc’s Ferrari before they even reach the braking zone.
Perez inevitably passes him two laps later and Leclerc settles into third place.
A Nyck de Vries-initiated safety car lifts Leclerc back into second behind new race leader Perez but instead of attacking on the restart he finds himself defending from Verstappen who comfortably passes him on the run to the Turn 3 left-hander.
Thereafter it’s just a race to hold onto third place which he executes nicely, keeping Fernando Alonso out of range to earn Ferrari’s first 2023 podium.
Belgian Grand Prix
A Verstappen grid penalty promotes Leclerc to his second GP pole of the year and the 20th of his F1 career.
He maintains his lead through Turn 1 but Perez blasts past him on the Kemmel Straight, and a recovering Verstappen does the same a few laps later.
Just like Baku, Leclerc puts third place out of reach of his rivals and picks up his third podium of the season.
United States Grand Prix
Leclerc loses this pole advantage in record speed as a slow getaway gifts Norris the race lead a few meters into the race.
A smart wide line through Turn 1 holds off advances from Hamilton and Sainz but tyre deg and an ill-fated one-stop doom Leclerc to finishing sixth.
A disqualification for an illegal amount of plank wear means Leclerc walks away completely empty-handed.
Mexican Grand Prix
Just like Austin, Leclerc isn’t in the lead for very long as the Red Bulls engulf him, Verstappen to his right and Perez to his left.
Verstappen passes him to take the lead while Perez makes contact as he tries to go around the outside of the Ferrari. Perez’s race is ruined but Leclerc survives albeit with minor damage.
He’s still second when there’s a mid-race red flag and standing restart but he’s powerless to prevent Hamilton overhauling him a few laps later, confining him to third.
Las Vegas Grand Prix
This was comfortably the closest Leclerc came to converting a pole to win in 2023.
Verstappen passes him into Turn 1 but he needs what the stewards deem to be an illegal overtake to steal the lead.
Leclerc sticks right with Verstappen, so close that after Verstappen serves his penalty, Leclerc's able to come out well ahead.
While Leclerc bolts, Verstappen clashes with Russell, a battle that ironically saves Verstappen's race, bringing him back into victory contention.
Verstappen passes both Perez and Leclerc to win the race but Leclerc fights valiantly and despite Perez initially passing him for second, he's able to pull off a sensational last-lap overtake to claim second place.
No choke there. Just a really well-executed race where the maximum result was earned.
And what of the other 16 pole-to-win chances from Leclerc's maiden year with Ferrari to his brief 2022 title challenge that quickly folded?
He was robbed of a chance to convert his first, Bahrain 2019, by an engine problem while he rued not getting his elbows out more when Verstappen muscled his way past him in Austria a few rounds later.
He converted his next two chances, Spa and Monza, with far greater wheel-to-wheel resilience, but an unfortunate undercut by team-mate Sebastian Vettel prevented him from securing a hat-trick of poles to wins in Singapore.
A strong slipstream and a minor team order row cost Leclerc at Sochi while he was left berating his own indecisiveness over strategy in Mexico as he fell from pole to fourth.
His next pole came in Monaco in 2021 where a Q3 crash both sealed his pole and would eventually mean he couldn't start the race after an unexpected issue was found just before the race. That undeniably lost him a really good shot at a victory.
In Baku that year, he emerged from a hectic race to finish fourth.
There were nine poles in 2022, only two were converted. However, most of those were lost through no fault of Leclerc's bar the French GP that clearly featured a catastrophic error that sent Leclerc spinning into the barriers at Le Beausset on lap 18.
Time and again, Leclerc has put a Ferrari in a grid position that either flatters its real pace or is facilitated by factors like new tyres that mask the kind of limitations in a car that a race stint and full distance more brutally expose.
Unfortunately, the outcome of that is an inevitable and unenviable attempt to fight gravity in the race that only very occasionally has featured a clear major error.