Before tackling the Texan circuit, simulations saw the usual Red Bull leading the way with McLaren right behind. This was due to the medium-high aerodynamic load required and a solid front end to handle the high-speed corner sequences. However, Ferrari seems to have worked very well on managing mechanical setups to allow better load transfers in various direction changes without penalizing its traction. Let’s explore together, in telemetry analysis, the lap achieved by Leclerc in the final attempt of the Austin qualifying and compare it with Norris and Verstappen.
Fast Qualifying Lap Comparison Lando Norris – Charles Leclerc
Comparing the two drivers allows us to speculate where the tenth of a second that separates them on the stopwatch comes from. In turn 1, the two drivers arrive almost side by side, with Charles Leclerc lifting off the throttle a few meters after Lando Norris. This allows him to carry several km/h more speed, necessary to exit as quickly as possible and race towards the snake. Entry speeds in this section overlap. Here, Charles Leclerc chooses to sacrifice the first corner, a choice that pays off immediately. In the subsequent corners, he manages to carry much more speed. Moreover, we can also see that the Monegasque has applied the brakes multiple times, unlike Lando Norris. This indicates that the front of the SF-23 is still lacking, and Charles Leclerc uses load transfers to make it more precise. This magic allowed him to gain around a tenth, crucial for securing pole position.
In turn 11, the excellent braking abilities of the Ferrari are once again confirmed, with SF-23 #16 braking about 5 meters later, still managing to carry more speed through the corner. The long straight sees the two cars almost overlapping, with Ferrari slightly ahead. But it’s in the third sector that Charles Leclerc manages to shine and maintain the tenth of an advantage he gained. The real magic happens in turn 16, where he chooses a sharper trajectory to get better traction and dominate the long right-hander with a hook. This move allowed Charles Leclerc to navigate it more swiftly and arrive in turn 18 with an 8 km/h advantage. However, this slightly penalized him in the subsequent very fast left bend, but he still manages to close the speed gap right after. At turn 20, Charles Leclerc adopted the same strategy as in turn 16, a sharper trajectory to exit rapidly toward the finish line.
Leclerc vs. Verstappen and those 5 milliseconds of excitement
Comparing the two drivers’ best laps, we can attempt to identify the 5 milliseconds that separated Charles Leclerc from Max Verstappen before the latter’s time was canceled. At the turn 1 brake point, Leclerc has a slight speed advantage but backs off earlier to nail the first corner. Arriving at the snake, Max Verstappen sacrifices the entry a lot to fly through the central part. In fact, all the minimum and maximum speeds are in his favor. Suddenly, Charles Leclerc manages to gain nearly 8 km/h over Max Verstappen in turn 8, and they arrive at turn 11 side by side. In the long straight, the efficiency of the SF-23 emerges, and it propels Charles Leclerc with a 7 km/h lead before braking. In the third sector, the gap narrows, with the two drivers sharing the best lines in the corners. The section 13-14-15 goes to Charles Leclerc, who, thanks to the traction of the SF-23, manages to arrive strongly at turn 16 to prepare it optimally.
Even in the comparison with Max Verstappen, in traversing the section 17-18, it is the Monegasque who has the upper hand with a consistent advantage of about 5-6 km/h. However, this advantage of Charles Leclerc is nullified by the world champion in turn 19 with a passage that is nearly 30 km/h faster, taking him off the track shortly after and nullifying the lap.