Charles Leclerc had a bittersweet moment in F1 Styrian GP, where Lap 1 was not great but post that, it became his ‘best performance’, as advice from Ross Brawn flew in.
The F1 Styrian GP saw a massive improvement for Ferrari’s Leclerc compared to the French GP, where he finished 16th, compared to the former, where he was seventh. Nine places better off, but owing to an opening lap incident which led to his spirited performance, it was the proverbial what might have been.
“If we look at the first lap, it’s been an incredible race for us and we’ve been incredibly quick, but obviously there’s been this first lap,” he said, having being forced to stopped for hard from Lap 1 and then stopping again for medium on Lap 37, while working his way up from as low as 18th to seventh.
“To be honest, I need to re-watch the images from the outside,” said Leclerc on the incident with Pierre Gasly. “I have no idea whether Pierre went a little bit to the left or I went a little bit to the right at the same time. I guess it’s a bit of both, and at the end, we touched.”
Finishing one place behind his teammate, it really was a great fillip for the Ferrari after last weeks performance. While Leclerc can be happy with the drive to seventh, a power circuit, which the team for this season have not done that well on so far on in 2021, deep down, surely the Monegasque is possibly reckoning that if he had got through lap one unscathed, he could have joined his teammate in almost battling with Lando Norris.
His fightback was superb to see as he passed the cars one after the other. The clash with Gasly wasn’t his only incident. On Lap 42, while overtaking Kimi Raikkonen, Leclerc touched his front end-plate which left the Finn rather irate, but his team reckoned it did not affect his performance. FIA Race Director Michael Masi advising that the incident in question was not looked at when questioned.
However, Masi was more vocal when asked about the incidents on lap one. “It was looked at, as part of sort of the lead up, let’s call it, of Turn 3 incident that was noted on the screen, and it was deemed one of those that it was being deemed a first lap type manner and considering the whole situation, there was noted that no further investigation was necessary,” he said.
For Leclerc, though, it was a solid fightback, one he terms as his best performance. “I would rank this as one of my best races so far in F1,” he said. “The car felt amazing, the pace was there, and I took every opportunity to make a strong recovery. In terms of performance, we extracted the maximum from the car.
“This shows how much work has gone on behind the scenes and what an amazing job the team has done especially in the last week. We’ve been incredibly quick, but obviously this first lap basically stopped us from doing something much, much, much better. It was a big opportunity. The pace was incredible.”
Opening lap incidents, have been commonplace in the sport for years. It was not the first time there has been an incident at the first couple of turns in Austria either – Leclerc & Vettel in 2020 and Haakinen & Coulthard many years ago. In short, this circuit has had more than its fair share so maybe that is why Masi had a laissez-faire approach.
Returning to Leclerc and his performance, he was voted as the driver of the day, even for F1 chief Ross Brawn. While he praised his work in the grand prix, the former Ferrari boss, noted the Monegasque’s mistake-making driving too, which he put it down to the mid-pack situation for a driver, who is otherwise in top form when in front.
“My driver of the day was a dilemma because once he got going, Charles Leclerc was clearly outstanding in the race,” wrote Brawn. “It wasn’t the best overall race we have seen from him, but he was pretty impressive in the way he recovered from the back. Of course, he made the mistake in the first place. He was a bit clumsy at the start so that is why it is a dilemma as I think he deserves our driver of the day, and our fans have said the same, but I would give it with a caveat that it was far from the perfect race.
“Max Verstappen did an impeccable job, but it was a straightforward win. There were no challenges like the last race where he was under intense pressure for quite a considerable amount of time. So I’ll give it Charles on balance. When you have won races and are as good as Charles is, you do get frustrated when you are back in the pack rather than being at the front of the grid. I always Michael had far more accidents in the middle of the pack than he did at the front-it’s inevitable really.
“That sounds an obvious thing, but there are people who race in the middle of the pack consistently who don’t have accidents. He’s got to keep his wits about him when he is in the lower positions. It is a lot busier. Given, he knows how strong he is, a moderately conservative approach needs to be considered.
“The tricky bit is if you’re too conservative you get into accidents as well It’s pretty ferocious there in the pack. So it’s a question of finding the balance. I suspect there is a touch of ‘I should be at the front, I want to back at the front as quick as I can mentality’,” summed up Brawn.
In fairness to Leclerc, he wasn’t really to blame for the incidents on Lap 1, but he did knuckle down and get on with the task in hand and the advice of Brawn is purely and simply, concentration and patience when a situation like this occurs.
The story was written by Neil Farrell
Here’s video of Charles Leclerc clipping Kimi Raikkonen’s wing: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/video.2021-styrian-grand-prix-leclerc-clips-raikkonen-wing-during-overtake-at-red-bull-ring.1703729318976160485.html
Here’s video of Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly colliding: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/video.2021-styrian-grand-prix-gasly-and-leclerc-collide-in-thrilling-race-start-at-the-red-bull-ring.1703725834684947194.html
Here’s Carlos Sainz on getting held up by Lewis Hamilton