It was a complex weekend for Charles Leclerc in the 2023 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. He had a promising start by securing pole position in Friday’s qualifying session, but he couldn’t replicate his success in the Sprint Shootout on Saturday or during the Sprint Race. His performance continued to decline in the Grand Prix, where, despite starting from pole position, he finished no higher than sixth (later disqualified, along with Lewis Hamilton, for excessive plank wear on his Ferrari SF-23 car), all due to a severely flawed race strategy.
The unsatisfactory strategy did not sit well with the driver, who, at various points during the race, had already expressed his discontent with the single pit stop tactic, beginning with the medium tires and ending with the hard ones. Italian journalist Umberto Zapelloni, former Sports and Motor Editor of Corriere della Sera, analyzed this recurring issue in his “Top Speed Blog,” pointing out that most of the pit crew’s mistakes seem to affect Charles, rarely Carlos Sainz.
“Is it possible that whenever the strategists at Scuderia Ferrari make a mistake, it’s him who pays the price? […] With four races left in a disappointing season, Charles finds himself with 20 fewer points than his teammate.” – he pointed out.
According to the renowned Italian journalist, this driver standings discrepancy is mainly attributed to Charles Leclerc’s difficulty in adapting to the SF-23, a challenge that is significantly greater than what his Spanish teammate has faced. While he occasionally shines during qualifying, he struggles to carry that success into the actual races.
“The SF-23 is a car that doesn’t quite align with Charles Leclerc’s driving style. […] On a single lap, he has had some satisfaction, but those joys have turned into disappointments: his last 10 poles have led to 10 Red Bull victories, a statistic that could become a nagging issue.”
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This declining trend in Charles Leclerc’s performance might also result from the team principal Fred Vasseur’s seemingly diminished support, undermining his confidence as well as his championship-winning drive during those rare moments when the SF-23 could have delivered satisfying results.
“The Ferrari that, under Fred Vasseur‘s management, was supposed to revolve around him, hasn’t succeeded in supporting him. […] A few messages to hold Carlos back but only when positions of little importance were at stake. Otherwise, every time important choices needed to be made, it was Charles who paid. […] He lost his way in the two most exciting opportunities of the year, the ones where the SF-23 could have delivered a smile: at Monza and Singapore. Even in Austin, after securing pole position, he fumbled the start, allowing Lando Norris to overtake him. There’s a risk of regression. On Sunday evening, Engineer Mazzola revived the theory of ‘Alesi-fication’ of Charles.”
The declining performance of a driver with undeniable talent is something that Ferrari should strive to prevent. They can do this by providing him with a more competitive car than the SF-23 and by protecting him in every possible way.
“Ferrari should be concerned because Charles Leclerc is a valuable asset for building the future. He needs a winning car, but in the meantime, they should construct a protective ring around him.” – Italian journalist Umberto Zapelloni concluded following the United States Grand Prix.