The perfect debut: Charles Leclerc in 2018
A review of the debut season of Charles Leclerc in Fromula 1 championship with Sauber.
What an outstanding season Sauber had this year. The team from Hinwil got the 8th position in Constructor Standings, scoring 48 points. Crowned by FIA Rookie of the year Charles Leclerc made a solid contribution to Sauber’s successful season and made a brilliant debut in the championship this season. Let’s remember all the ups and downs of the Monegasque in 2018.
Who could believe before the start of the season that in few races the debutant of the championship will actively fight for the points in top-10? One of the main factors of a doubt in Charles’ success was the team, where Leclerc began his Formula 1 career. The last good season for Sauber was in 2015, when the team scored 36 points and took 8th place in championship. This year Sauber obviously reached a new level in technic and in terms of the reliability of its cars, which undoubtedly helped Leclerc to hold the debut season at a high level.
Let's go back to the first race of the season. At the Australian Grand Prix Sauber looked ambiguous: with 18th (Leclerc) and 17th (Ericsson) positions in qualifying, and retirement of Marcus and P13 of Charles in race. Next weekend, in Bahrain, was successful for Ericsson, where he finished on the 9th place, but the situation remained unchanged for Leclerc: next two stages Charles lost a lot to his teammate.
As the debutant told, the beginning of the season was really difficult and stressful for him. Especially, new type of relationships inside of the team, communication with engineers, what were much different than in Formula 2.
«At the beginning it’s first of all quite intimidating to speak to so many people. Everything you are going to say is going to be analyzed, not only by your engineer, but by so many people. But then you get used to it. And also the type of feedback you give, you can be a lot more precise with everything you say because there are a lot more people in the background. In Formula 2, you really try to focus on the main points because obviously there’s only one or two persons maximum that are helping you to get the car better», - said Leclerc.
«Most of all it comes from just getting used to this paddock, to the things that we need to do around driving that I didn’t expect at the beginning of the year. All these things are small details but it makes quite a big difference. And also just the way you work with so many people. I’ve learned to work with quite a lot more people. Before you are used to speaking only to your engineer and that’s it. So yeah, all of these things have changed me quite a bit».
Every rookie faces such adaptation, another question is that everybody deals with it by the different ways. Obviously Charles has the best one. Look at the results, it seems that initial stress affected only his firsts three races, because after the Chinese Grand Prix Charles began to do amazing things.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix – the first Q2 and the first points. In Azerbaijan Leclerc stunned everyone with his result. Of course, many events were in the race in Baku, for example, the retirement of two Red Bulls and Valtteri Bottas, which indirectly could help the driver to get such a high position. But the fact is the fact – the 6th place in the fourth race. Obviously, Sauber has done everything to help Charles adapt to new realities and feel comfortable in the team.
One of the most successful Grand Prix for Leclerc is French stage, anyway in the first part of the season. In Le Castellet the Monegasque moved to Q3 in qualifying and started the race from P8, which he finished in points, on P10.
The good moments were replaced by bad ones, but they had nothing to do with Charles’ performances – every time the driver became a victim of circumstances. In Monaco, on the home stage, Leclerc retired due the crash with Brendon Hartley. In Silverstone, where he could reach the 4th finish in points, Sauber’s mechanics made a mistake on the pit-stop and didn’t fasten the wheel, after that Charles had to stop the car. On the start of Hungary race Leclerc was involved in the incident between two Force India that clamped him. Charles’ car got some damages what was the reason for DNF.
The second part of the season was definitely more successful for the driver, despite the fact that it began with the retirement again – that terrible accident in Belgium when Fernando Alonso flew over Leclerc’s car.
However, in Singapore luck returned to Charles. It seemed that everyone already used to the fact that Leclerc stable moves to Q3 in qualifying and gains points in almost every race. But still strong performances were balanced with DNFs. Leclerc had to retire in two races in a row – in Japan and United States. In Japan Charles faced technical problems, and in Austin on the start Grosjean pushed Leclerc's car, because of that Charles had to finish the race.
By the way, Marcus Eriсsson had only 4 retirements for the whole season. It may seem paradoxical, but with 6 DNFs Charles beat Marcus by 30 points in the standings. During the season Leclerc was more stable, and his results were consistently higher than the results of his teammate. For example, in 4 races – Russia, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, where Charles consistently finished in 7th position.
So, by the results of the year, Charles:
- finished 10 races in points
- had 6 retirements
- 8 times moved to Q3
- scored 39 points and 13th position in Driver standings
The statistics speak by themselves: Leclerc managed to make one of the most successful debuts in Formula 1. That’s why he got the proposal from top team so soon. It’s difficult to predict what awaits him in Ferrari. It could be as rapid rise, as painful fall. Anyway, Charles must be ready for everything and more stress and pressure than he had in Sauber. Especially now, when Scuderia has difficult times. Perhaps Ferrari will prepare for the arrival of Charles and create a relaxed atmosphere within the team, and like Sauber this year, will do everything for a comfortable adaptation of the Leclerc in the new team. Some changes already happened in the Scuderia – former senior performance engineer of Ferrari Jock Clear will work with Leclerc in 2019, what gives us a reason to think about who the team is going to consider as its champion next years. But this is another story.