RACING

The pain of old-school F1 Leclerc battles

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Charles Leclerc has 16 pole positions in Formula 1 to his name, but only five victories.

It tells the story of a driver enduring an old-fashioned pain: that of being fast enough to race out front yet still converting those situations into wins at the pace one would expect in 21st century F1.

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There was a time when such statistics would be less catchy. Reliability rates were poor and the correlation between race and qualifying pace was not that close, which made it easier to get pole positions without the victories that come with them.

The classic example is Ayrton Senna, who at one point in early 1987 had 16 poles and just four wins to his name thanks to Lotus machines that were stronger in qualifying than in the race. This was largely due to the performance profile of the Renault turbo engine in 1985 and 86.

Senna improved on that strike rate with machines that were better on race day in later years, but still finished with “only” 41 wins for his 65 poles.

But Leclerc’s current ratio of five wins for 16 poles is the second worst of the 51 drivers who have qualified five or more times in world championship history.

The identity of the worst-off driver is telling. Chris Amon took five pole positions but failed to win a single world championship race, giving him a mathematically problematic ratio of 5:0.

The New Zealander excelled for Ferrari from 1967 to 1969 but was consistently let down by reliability issues.

His most notorious season was 1968, when he retired while dominating the races three times. You can argue that he would have been the worthy world champion this season, despite only finishing 10th in the standings.

Acc

The comparison with Amon is one that should make Leclerc think. In large part, this is because of the machinery and a high-capacity operator who is repeatedly let down by his equipment.

But there were occasional mistakes along the way, with the infamous Amon ripping off his own visor at Monza in 1971 when he was potentially on the way to victory for Matra. It wasn’t driver error, but it was still under the driver’s control.

Leclerc had his mistakes as well, but nothing as weird as that. But there were many races that he could or should have won that eluded him through no fault of his own.

This trend began in the 2019 Bahrain GP, ​​the first he started from pole and where a falling cylinder led him to drop from first to third in the closing stages.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

He also lost that year’s Austrian Grand Prix after starting from pole position due to insufficient defending and losing to Max Verstappen’s controversial late pass. He started in the lead in Singapore and Russia too, where Ferrari’s strategy thwarted him, and in Mexico a two-stop strategy failed.

In 2021 his infamous Monaco Q3 accident did not deny him pole but caused damage to the rear left corner which went undetected until he headed to the grid on race day , while the car was never fast enough to hang on to the lead after starting at the front in Azerbaijan.

Of Leclerc’s seven pole positions this year, he has only converted two to victory – in Bahrain and Australia.

In Miami, Verstappen was quicker on race day, while in Spain an MGU-H and turbocharger failure robbed him before bad strategy struck in Monaco. Add to that the engine problem in Azerbaijan when he was in good position to beat Verstappen and it’s a three-race streak he could have – and should have – won from pole.

His 16th pole position came at Paul Ricard and can be considered the only time Leclerc didn’t convert first on the grid to victory thanks to in-race driving error (although the Monaco 2021 failure was caused by his qualification error). There, it was a simple case of pushing a little too hard while trying to mitigate Verstappen’s loss of time after the Red Bull driver pitted, and getting caught.

Motor Racing Formula 1 World Championship French Grand Prix Race Day Paul Ricard, France

There are several lessons to be learned from this. Above all, Ferrari proved woefully ill-equipped for a World Championship tilt despite producing a solid car. It’s something Leclerc, a rider who unquestionably has the speed to win world championships but ideally needs to correct his mistakes given he’s made two costly errors in the race this year, needs to watch closely.

If Ferrari doesn’t hone in, there will be plenty of other teams taking him on, although his current employer will have time to sort things out given he’s contracted until the end of 2024. Leclerc n You only have to look at Amon’s career to realize that an underperforming team can cost you dearly even when you’re performing at a high level.

Yet there is another warning in Amon’s career. He left Ferrari in mid-1969 – a season in which the Ferrari 312/69 proved largely uncompetitive, but he could have won two races nonetheless without reliability problems.

Law

But his later career was no more successful, although with Matra in ’71 he lost that shot in victory at Monza and, most painfully, suffered a puncture dominating the French Grand Prix.

If Amon had stayed with Ferrari there was every chance he would have won races in 1970 – Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni did – although it wasn’t until 1974 that he was really in position. strength to fight for the world championship.

The lesson is only to jump ship if it’s to a truly stronger team, and that means there will be few viable alternatives for Leclerc.

But the very fact that Leclerc’s record is so unusual in F1 today – Lewis Hamilton, for example, has a 1:1 ratio of 103 wins and poles, Sebastian Vettel is not far off with 57 poles and 53 wins and Verstappen has just 16 poles for his 28 wins – suggests it won’t last forever.

Had Ferrari and Leclerc made the most of their opportunities this year, they would have won at least three more races, possibly as many as six more races by the most generous count possible.

It not only shows how much has been lost, but also what could be possible for Ferrari and Leclerc if the team manages to pull itself together in the years to come.

Leclerc will have to decide if he takes his pole/win stat disparity as a sign of glories to come, or a harbinger of doom, should he get to the point where he is pricing his Ferrari future.

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