Analysis of Leclerc's Ferrari debut
Ahead of the weekend, Leclerc’s first appearance for the famous Italian was eagerly anticipated. However, it would turn out to be one to forget overall, as he struggled quite a bit.
Spins, mistakes and making contact with his team-mate
FP2: In the dying moments of second practice, the Monegasque driver spins at the exit of turn 4 during his race simulation. Luckily for him, the car didn’t end up in the wall.
Imagine putting your brand new Ferrari into the wall on your first proper day in the job 😱— Formula 1 (@F1) March 15, 2019
Disaster just about averted for @Charles_Leclerc 😶#AusGP 🇦🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/TtI2NFh93Z
Q3: After lapping quicker than Vettel in Q1 and Q2, Leclerc admitted he didn’t drive well in Q3. He ended up P5, 0.252s behind his team-mate and got pipped by Max Verstappen to P4 on the grid.
Lap 1: Leclerc made a good start and did get the jump on Verstappen. Then, he tried to go around the outside of his stablemate at turn 1. It was a gap that was always going to close and Leclerc’s front wing clipped Vettel’s left rear tyre. They were both extremely lucky not to have picked up damage. Verstappen did get back in front of the Monegasque following that incident.
1 Check out that rapid start from @ValtteriBottas 👀— Formula 1 (@F1) March 17, 2019
2 How close did those Ferraris get?!? 👀
Those dramatic opening few seconds of the #AusGP, from the perspective of @Charles_Leclerc #F1 pic.twitter.com/MeiMRSR7xO
Lap 9: Following the lucky escape with Vettel on the opening lap, Leclerc made another error at turn 1. He went deep and on to the grass at the beginning of the ninth lap. It cost him 3 seconds – and he completely lost touch with Verstappen in front of him due to that lapse in concentration.
A lack of pace compared to Vettel
Going up against such a great driver and a four-time World Champion is never going to be easy and Leclerc really learned that at Albert Park.
He trailed the German in all three practice sessions and in the most important segment of qualifying. In FP1 the gap was a mere 0.036s – but that widened to 0.252s by Q3, as previously stated above.
The opening quarter of the race proved to be extremely tough for Leclerc, too. As well as his grass cutting excursion at T1 on lap 9, he struggled to match the pace of his team-mate.
Leclerc was slower than the German on every lap before Vettel boxed on lap 14. The closest he got was on lap 8 – 0.151s separated them on that particular tour. The young Monegasque pilot found himself 10.7s adrift when Vettel did box.
Even taking out the lap where Leclerc made his error, he was regularly half a second lap slower than his stablemate – and that’s quite a big gap in F1 terms. He’ll be concerned by that difference.
On 14 lap fresher tyres, Leclerc caught Vettel in the final ten laps. However, as he got really close, Leclerc asked the team should he stay behind the German. His race engineer told him to do so. Clearly, team orders are never great to see – but it made sense in Australia.
Vettel struggled in the second half of the Grand Prix and seemed to be down on power, plus he was compromised by an early stop. He showed throughout the event that he was quicker and Ferrari made the right call to tell Leclerc to remain in P5.
Can he bounce back in Bahrain?
At the moment, Ferrari’s biggest concern will be about their lack of speed last weekend.
Nonetheless, Leclerc’s performance in Melbourne turned out to be extremely underwhelming.
Much like last year, he’s started slowly – and in 2018 that continued at both Bahrain and China. When you drive at a top team, you need to be on every weekend and close to your team-mate, at the very least. Otherwise, the media scrutiny and pressure soon mount.
It would be extremely unfair to say he’s under the pump after one race. Yet, he’ll need and want to be much closer to his stablemate in Sakhir. It’ll be interesting to see if he can do that next weekend.