Leclerc's past F1 mistakes hint at how he'll react to Imola - The Race
Formula 1

Leclerc’s past F1 mistakes hint at how he’ll react to Imola

Apr 28 2022
By Scott Mitchell

The mistake that cost Charles Leclerc a podium in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix matters less for the 2022 Formula 1 title fight than how he responds to it.

No driver is immune to blunders and while Leclerc is not exactly error-prone he tends to make them quite costly when they do happen.

What Leclerc is good at is being self-critical enough to really reflect on what went wrong and, as a rule, he does tend to avoid repeating identical mistakes.

The Imola error, spinning out of a nailed-on third place while chasing second, is not a direct repeat of something he’s done before. So when he says he understands what went wrong and will not do it again, there is reason to trust him.

“It’s one of those mistakes where it’s a bit more the mental approach that you’ve had at that particular moment of the race,” says Leclerc.

“But I’ve always been strong at knowing exactly which particular feeling I felt at that moment of the race and know how to correct it.

“So yeah, it’s a mistake, but I’ll learn from it and then won’t do it again.”

While Leclerc does not tend to make the same errors they are usually a manifestation of the same basic, on-the-limit approach. So, the problem is not that he’s a repeat offender, but more that he is quite good at finding new errors to make!

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

What that says about exactly how much he’s learning from these errors is tough to say. But he does learn from them. The above answer carries a clear air of ‘I got carried away, I won’t let that happen again’.

Plus, when we look at the errors Leclerc has made since 2019 (as it seems fair to give him a free pass for his rookie season in 2018), there are nine significant errors that stand out, peppered across three-and-a-bit seasons in a wide range of circumstances. They are not particularly frequent and any patterns are slightly forced.


LECLERC’S ERRORS

– Crashing in qualifying at the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix when in contention for pole

– Understeering into Max Verstappen on the opening lap of the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix

– Hitting Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap of the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix

– Crashing out of the 2020 Italian Grand Prix at Parabolica after a safety car restart

– Losing a podium on the final lap of the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, sliding wide defending a position

– Ending his own race (and Verstappen’s) after locking up on the first lap of 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix and hitting Sergio Perez

– Meandering into Pierre Gasly on the first lap of the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix, breaking his own front wing

– Crashing into the wall in Monaco Grand Prix qualifying in 2021, which ultimately led to him not being able to take the start from pole position the next day

– Spinning from third place in the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix


Within that list, we could group those errors into four instances of first-lap misjudgements in battle resulting in costly contact (Japan 2019, Austria 2020, Sakhir 2020, Austria 2021); two instances of crunching it into the wall on a qualifying lap (Baku 2019, Monaco 2021); two instances of getting carried away chasing a better result (Turkey 2020, Imola 2022) and one instance of just a random mid-race crash (Monza 2020).

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Race Day Monza, Italy

But this is overly harsh because all of those incidents were different. For instance, 2020 was comfortably the worst in terms of Leclerc’s rate of blunders, but they were always in races. And it all came down to him overreaching in a poor car. It’s tempting to conclude that Leclerc wouldn’t have had the high peaks of 2020 without those low troughs.

Take out the season in a midfield Ferrari and before Imola Leclerc’s errors boil down to a couple of costly mistakes on a street track in qualifying – where Leclerc’s on-the-limit style is highest risk, highest reward – and a couple of clumsy first-lap misjudgements.

We can probably rule out ‘pressure’ as a factor. Leclerc’s never really looked like a driver who responds poorly to that. In fact, he tends to be the opposite. And while he is openly self-critical, he’s adamant extra pressure was not a factor at Imola.

“That’s what I think at least,” he says. “We’ve had pressure not only today [the grand prix] but for the whole weekend. And I don’t think I’ve done many mistakes before today.

“It was the mistake that cost me a lot. And I’ll learn from it. But no, on my side there was no particularly added pressure whatsoever.”

Perhaps sitting on the limit is a part of Leclerc’s make-up that hasn’t evolved, even though his judgement in other areas has become better. That would help control the frequency but still leave him vulnerable to, for example, occasionally shunting in qualifying with a fast car when he’s chasing a mega lap.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

Leclerc is biased towards a risk-taking attitude and has made good progress in terms of controlling that but ultimately that base mentality and potential for a mistake isn’t going to disappear without a complete attitude shift.

He’s not a reckless driver. When he goes wheel-to-wheel with someone, there’s no sign of a ‘win it or bin it’ or ‘yield or we crash’ mentality.

But there are errors from time to time. Big ones. And in a title fight, even small mistakes become super costly.

Until now, Leclerc’s never faced stakes high enough to really ask himself whether a recalculation of how he balances risk and reward is necessary. This could end up being a nicely timed lesson.

“I’ve been a bit lucky because I’ve only lost seven points again to what I could have scored,” Leclerc says.

“But it’s seven points that could be valuable at the end of the season. And every point counts when you’re driving for the title.

“So yeah, it won’t happen again.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

This could prompt a final refinement that cuts out Leclerc’s favoured genre of mistake of ‘pushing too hard’. Or he could back himself to be at the right balance already and accept a trade-off of the occasional setback in order to enjoy a vast number of high points.

Either way, Leclerc’s reaction to the first championship-impacting mistake of his F1 career will be fascinating.

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