Tree debris incident began Leclerc's 'vicious circle' slump - The Race
Formula 1

Tree debris incident began Leclerc’s ‘vicious circle’ slump

Jun 6 2021
By Scott Mitchell-Malm

Ferrari Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc felt he lost the lead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix when he did because he backed off after cutting the track to avoid “part of a tree”.

Leclerc scored a surprise second pole position in a row in Baku and led initially before Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton passed him at the end of the second lap on the long blast down the start-finish straight.

Ferrari’s race pace was poor relative to the leading cars and Leclerc was under pressure almost immediately.

But he suggested it was some evasive action that prompted him to be overtaken so quickly.

Leclerc was the first to approach some debris visible in the middle of the track on the entry to Turn 15, the tight left-hander that drops downhill, on lap two of the race and he took to the run-off on the inside of the corner to avoid it.

Hamilton took a tight line through the corner instead while third-placed Max Verstappen also opted to use the run-off area on the inside.

Leclerc said backing off as a precaution against any penalty allowed Hamilton to get close enough to have the run he did, the Mercedes overtaking even without the drag reduction system (DRS) being available, and that set the Ferrari driver up for a difficult opening stint.

“It was starting to be quite OK in the first few laps then there was something that I think hasn’t been seen on TV,” said Leclerc.

“There was like a part of a tree in the middle of Turn 15. And there I actually lost quite a bit of time because I cut the track and I was a bit worried to gain time on Lewis behind, who hasn’t cut the track.

Lewis Hamilton passes Charles Leclerc Baku F1 2021

“So I slowed down and then he overtook me and then from then on it was quite difficult because then I was behind Lewis, in dirty air I struggled a little bit.

“As soon as I lost the DRS, Max overtook me. And then you are just in a vicious circle that is very difficult because I had cars all around me that had a bit more pace than I did so.

“I struggled a little bit, then I recovered a little bit of pace, but then we decided to stop early.”

Leclerc fell out of the podium places before pitting and his early stop meant he was jumped by the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly as well, so ran a net fifth for most of the first half of the grand prix.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari Baku 2021

He was passed by former team-mate Sebastian Vettel at a safety car restart and slipped to sixth, which gradually become fourth as Verstappen retired from a tyre failure and Hamilton went off at the restart that following the ensuing red flag period.

Leclerc briefly passed Gasly for third at the end of the penultimate lap but Gasly was able to get back ahead into Turn 1 after diving into the Ferrari’s slipstream, and Leclerc was unable to make a move stick over the rest of the lap.

With team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr losing time early in his second stint because of a trip down the escape road, Ferrari only translated first and fifth on the grid into fourth and eighth in the grand prix.

But team principal Mattia Binotto said it was still a positive weekend as Ferrari moved ahead of McLaren in the constructors’ championship.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari Baku 2021

“We were expecting something better after quali,” Binotto admitted.

“It has been a difficult race, we have not been perfect in many areas. It may be a lesson learned.

“There are things that we can improve, I’m pretty sure that reviewing the entire race we’ll find areas of improvement and that’s important for us.

“It’s still a good weekend and we should keep heads up and positive.

“We have made a pole yesterday, which I think was outstanding, the second pole in a row showing the progress of the team and the car.

“And we are third in the constructive championships. It’s only by two points but it’s showing that we are progressing.”

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