Charles Leclerc said he believed he could win F1 British GP until the actual moment of Lewis Hamilton passing him, as Mattia Binotto adds on early troubles.
For Ferrari’s Leclerc it was so near and yet so far. He was competitive from the moment the lights went out in F1 British GP and he would have indeed been a popular winner, even with the partisan Brits. He was the driver of the day – via 34% votes – and until that moment at Copse corner on Lap 50, it was his race all-through.
He made an excellent start that saw him pass Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, while chasing down Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Leclerc pounced past the Brit after the Copse collision and led under safety car conditions until the race was red flagged. The race re-started with the Monegasque now at the head of the field.
Hamilton again made a great start from second, but Leclerc held him at bay, and for so long. If anything, he drove one of his most intelligent races ever, even having to handling engine issues frequently in the middle of the race. He maintained a gap at the front consistently. When Hamilton pitted, the gap was 2.4 between them.
Owing to the 10 sec penalty, Hamilton dropped to fifth. Leclerc then pitted and maintained his lead. Indeed, at one point it was a Ferrari 1-2. He increased his lead over Bottas and Hamilton was 9.5 behind him on lap 40 until the Finn was ordered not to fight the Brit.
Bit by bit, the gap decreased, and decreased, and decreased and it was on Lap 50, that Hamilton passed Leclerc at the same same Copse corner, where he went a bit wide. When asked when he realised the win was not his, the Monegasque was confident enough to note that he didn’t until the actual moment of passing.
“When Lewis passed me is when I realised I would lose,” said Leclerc. “Until then I still believed I could win this race, and it’s the way it should be. If I was thinking of being second before that, I think it will have gone even worse. I believed in it until the very last moment. Obviously I had my engineer telling me Lewis’ pace on the hard tyres, and I was like ‘that’s quick’. I was pushing 200% but obviously it wasn’t’ good enough to keep that first position in the last laps.”
At the start of the weekend, Ferrari would have taken a podium from either Leclerc and Sainz. And as it turned out, the Monegasque led for 95% of the race but took second. After the tyre troubles in Paul Ricard, they were worried but when the pace looked good, and him losing just two laps to the flag, it left him partly disappointed.
“It is 50% frustration, 50% happiness,” said Leclerc. “Obviously going into this weekend there was absolutely no hope of fighting for a win here in Silverstone. So, this shows how great a job we are doing as a team. It’s not an easy situation for the team but the team is working extremely well. We are working extremely well as a team and we have shown that today with this second place.
“Now we need to keep on working because that’s what we want to do consistently: fight for the win. So it’s great to be fighting with Lewis but we shouldn’t expect to be in that position for the rest of the year – and for that we need to keep working,” summed up Leclerc, who credited his team for the work that they have done, for the re-start when he was on pole.
“On my side the engineers did an incredible job the last few races now but we have very good start performances, and yeah, on the second start I just focused on, on whatever I had to do in the car to actually do the best jump out of the grid,” said Leclerc. “I could, and then I took my eye in Turn three and four and once I looked again in the mirrors there was quite a gap which was good to see and helped me for the rest of the race.”
The only blip in the race was his engine issues where Mercedes caught up with him, but eventually they managed it well. “I was really on it every lap,” said Leclerc. “So I don’t think there is one lap where I did a big mistake – and especially in the first stint with problems we had with the engine, I thought my race was over.
“I had quite a lot of things to do on the steering wheel but yeah, I think we managed the situation very, very well and we managed to diminish these engine cuts for the rest of the race,” summed up Leclerc, who had one of his best drives in his four years in F1.
The work was equally hailed by team boss Binotto, who stated that Leclerc was managing the race well, whether in clean air and or traffic. They had an issue with the fuel system, but he noted that it was resolved by the end of the race and he was at full pace.
“I think with Charles in the clean air, he could do better, managing his pace and tyres,” said Binotto. “I think Lewis behind was managing his tyres in the corners, where he could have been fast but was managing, probably looking after the blisters. He also knew that by the end of the race, he could have come back as he waiting for the moment.
“It was good to see the pace and has been shown in the last few races that if you are ahead, you can have a good race, so it is important to have a better qualifying position, so that you are higher to do a good race. As for the issue, we have to look at it but it was related to management of fuel system.
“Somehow we had to manage through steering wheel switches, try to push the driver to fix it. We will have a look but he had some power cuts that we fixed but it was not damaging his power by the end of the race,” summed up Binotto.
The story was written by Neil Farrell
Here’s Charles Leclerc on engine issues: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/video.2021-british-grand-prix-race-leader-leclerc-complains-of-engine-problems.1705636810103587562.html
Here’s post-race disappointment for Charles Leclerc: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/video.2021-british-grand-prix-frustrated-leclerc-reacts-after-missing-out-on-silverstone-win.1705642577930128430.html
Here’s how Charles Leclerc viewed Lap 1 tangle
Here’s how F1 British GP panned out