Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Charles Leclerc was consigned to finish P5 from midway through Sunday’s race, due to the lack of longevity of the Soft tyre compound.Having crashed his Ferrari during Q2 on Saturday, Charles Leclerc was able to start the race from higher than expected as his qualifying time had been enough to get through into Q3. Penalties for the two Alfa Romeo drivers meant Leclerc was able to line up P8 for the race start.
Running the Medium tyre, he showed great pace early in the race to be right behind teammate Sebastian Vettel when the German pitted on Lap 18. Inheriting the lead when the two Mercedes drivers made their planned single stops, Leclerc’s 13 second lead was eroded away as the race progressed. Once the team were finally confident of making the race finish on the short-lived Soft tyre compound, they brought him in for his stop. However, this was after he had been caught and passed by both Merc drivers, as well as Vettel. From there, Leclerc was doomed to finish P5 as the Soft tyre didn’t offer any pace advantage, contrary to expectation.
“We extracted the most we could have done out of today’s race.” said Leclerc afterwards. The Monegasque had been voted Driver of the Day for his attempt at keeping the race lively, while a late pitstop for fresh Softs allowed him to score an extra point for the fastest lap.
“After the setback in qualifying, I started from P8 on medium tyres. It was a bit tricky in the beginning, because everyone around me was starting on the soft compound while I struggled a little bit to get up to speed. Once I got the tyres up to temperature, I had good grip and the situation improved. We had a strong first stint and were able to gain some positions there. After the pit-stop it became clear that we would not be able to move further up the order, so we decided to stop pushing to save the tyres, pitted for a new set and so I was able to bring home the point for the fastest lap at the end. Overall, it hasn’t been the best weekend but our potential was clearly there and I hope that we will have a much better performance at the next GP in Spain again.”
Team boss Mattia Binotto rued a poor qualifying position, but praised his young charge for his efforts: “On this track, grid positions make a big difference, as starting further back makes everything more difficult. In the race, there were no Safety Car periods to take advantage of, which might have played into our hands against our rivals. Charles ran a great race, moving up the order, after losing a few places at the start, because it was harder for him to get his Medium tyres up to temperature than it was for those on the Softs. Today, our pace was not good enough and our rivals were faster. We have to go home, identify the areas where we are weak and push in our way of working, to make more aggressive choices to get back to where we deserve to be.”