Last weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was yet another race to forget for the Monegasque Ferrari driver Charls Leclerc as he was forced to start in 12th and managed to finish in seventh. He is now sitting 38 points off Max Verstappen in the driver’s championship and many are fearing that this is already the end of his chance of a shot at the title.
Recently, Leclerc denied rumours that suggested he was up for a straight swap with Mercedes, however, this does not mean he has stopped shopping around and if the Saudi Arabia race showed us anything (apart from yet another confused FIA mishap), it highlighted the 25-year-old’s continuing frustrations with the Prancing Horses.
Last year felt as if it should have been Ferrari’s year to win at least one of the two championships on offer. However, engine failures and strategic errors ultimately cost both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc valuable points. With a new Team Principal at the helm this year, drivers and fans had been hoping for a revival, yet after two races, it feels as if we are at much the same point we were at last year.
What happened in Saudi Arabia?
Leclerc was handed a 10-point grid penalty after Ferrari fitted a third Energy Store and Control Electronics in his engine. After qualifying second, the Monegasque was then forced to start in twelfth place and his agitations continued to develop with each passing lap.
The driver started on soft tyres, but looking around noticed a field of mediums. He then questioned his race engineer Xavier Marcos Padros: “So we are the only car on soft?” to which Xavi replied: “Only Norris at the back, P19”.
As a result, Leclerc was then forced to pit earlier than those around him with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton able to utilise the safety car more fortuitously when Lance Stroll retired two laps after Leclerc’s pit stop. Xavi then said: “The only car we will lose to is Max” which was quickly followed by “Try to push from Safety Car line On for Lewis Hamilton, he just pitted.”
Leclerc then replied “Xavi, you need to tell me that before” to which he simply received a “copy” in reply and Leclerc frustratingly said: “No, but come on!”
Unsurprisingly, the 25-year-old then lost positions to Verstappen and Hamilton, falling to seventh, and he was even unable to close the gap to his team-mate Carlos Sainz. Leclerc then vented: “Being behind like this is really s***. I don’t know what to do. I’m not going to push anymore.”
What’s next for Leclerc?
When asked what his team must do to get into the title fight, Leclerc responded “A lot, really a lot. Straight lines (Red Bull) are quicker, corners they are quicker, so we need everything. Overall the pace is just not good enough. Honestly, there wasn’t much more in the car, that was the best we could do.”
It would appear that Mercedes is highly probable to be Leclerc’s next destination if he throws in the towel with Ferrari, however depending on Sergio Perez’s progress, the Monegasque could end up at Red Bull. However, as Perez is finding out, Red Bull is very much Verstappen’s team so it is Lewis Hamilton’s seat at Mercedes that is most likely the one being eyed up by the 25-year-old.
When is the next Grand Prix?
The Australian Grand Prix will take place on Sunday 2 April 2023 with a UK start-time of 6am. As usual, Sky Sports will have all of the action.