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Formula 1

How Leclerc’s become ‘a leader, not only a driver’ at Ferrari

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

Ferrari Formula 1 boss Mattia Binotto says Charles Leclerc has become a “leader” in what has proven to be an “important season” for him despite the team’s lack of competitiveness.

Leclerc won two races in his first year with Ferrari, including the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and toppled four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel from his position as stated team leader in the process.

He was expected to be a title challenger in 2020 but Ferrari has struggled this season after losing a lot of engine performance adapting to various FIA technical directives and experiencing a further setback with a car that’s too draggy for its reduced power output.

Charles Leclerc

Leclerc started the season with an opportunistic podium in the Austrian Grand Prix and was third in the British GP after Valtteri Bottas’s late puncture, but has otherwise spent most of 2020 sniping for lower points positions.

He has spearheaded Ferrari’s mini-revival in the final third of the championship, scoring six points in the last six races, and heads into the Bahrain GP weekend with a hat-trick of consecutive top-five finishes.

However, Leclerc threw away a third podium of the season with a mistake on the final lap of the previous race in Turkey, where he passed Sergio Perez for second only to slide wide at the hairpin and fall behind the Racing Point driver and Vettel.

“He’s aware that results of the future are somehow depending as well on his contribution” :: Mattia Binotto

Leclerc spectacularly admonished himself over the team radio moments later after taking the chequered flag, to such an extent Binotto intervened from Maranello – where he was following the race remotely – to tell Leclerc to stop.

Binotto suggested the radio comments were discussed later, but that Leclerc had driven an “outstanding race” and proved his range of qualities even though the youngster “does not need to prove how fast he is”.

“On the overall season, I think it has been an important season for him,” Binotto said.

Charles Leclerc

“Very difficult from the competitiveness point of view of our car but I think that in terms of leader of the team, he is developing himself.

“He is very supportive, he understands when it’s time to support the team, when it’s time to push, when it’s time to somehow really improve.

“He’s aware that results of the future are somehow depending as well on his contribution.

“I think in that, he’s really a leader. Not only a driver. He developed himself quite a lot this season.

“On top of that, he learned a lot as well in terms of driving, managing the tyres, race pace, and I think that in terms of, certainly his ability to drive, he improved again, during the season itself.

“He’s already very strong but he will be even stronger – certainly next year as well.”

Leclerc’s expletive-laden outburst post-race in Turkey included the declaration he did a “shit job” and was “fucking stupid”, stating it was even worse than his qualifying crash in Azerbaijan last year, when Leclerc called himself an “idiot”.

He has consistently been vocal in his self-criticism since joining F1 in 2018.

One of the 23-year-old’s most impressive traits is how he can use that as a way to vent frustration but also identify weaknesses to improve.

Leclerc has quickly developed into a more rounded driver as a result, with his major mistakes this year limited to that error in Turkey and rear-ending Vettel on the opening lap of the Styrian GP and forcing both cars to retire.

Reflecting on his error in Turkey, Leclerc said: “There were two things: one that I was too optimistic and probably missed my braking point.

“And also the car was very dirty and I was looking in the mirrors and couldn’t see anything behind.

“The end result is I should have taken a bit more margin and I was ahead at the braking point.

“It happened, I’ll learn from it, and hopefully it won’t happen again.”

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