Charles Leclerc, a standout on the F1 circuit, has encountered numerous vexing results in 2023. His difficulties have stemmed from driving in varied conditions, which require a pared-down approach to minimize errors and maintain the fragile Pirelli tyres despite his aggressive technique.
His exit from the Barcelona qualifiers, which took place after a wet Free Practice 3 session where he placed 19th, epitomizes these challenges. Moreover, the Switch from intermediates to slick tyres in the Canadian second qualifying prompted his elimination.
After securing a spot on the front row for the Austrian Grand Prix, he only went on to achieve sixth place in the subsequent sprint shootout qualifying, which was conducted on the heels of a wet stretch at the Red Bull Ring.
On the eve of the Spa weekend, Leclerc disclosed that substantial work had been put into rectifying ongoing issues. These efforts, he acknowledged, “paid off”, with him finishing a commendable second to Max Verstappen in the Belgium Friday evening Grand Prix qualifying.
Leclerc attributed his renewed performance to changes in his aggressive driving style, which “just didn’t work” under those conditions. He admitted to making excessive errors and finding it challenging to foster a reliable foundation. To enhance his performance, he modified his approach, yielding immediate improvements.
A comparative analysis of Leclerc‘s performance in Spain and his Friday evening display in Spa attests to his adopted composure.
He had minor struggles but performed commendably well, given the circumstances. Notwithstanding an oversteer snap at Turn 8 – one of Spa’s trickiest points, especially after rainfall ahead of Grand Prix’s qualifier – and a slide at the last Bus Stop chicane, Leclerc drove his SF-23 with poised calmness, registering a personal best of 1m46.998s.
His meticulously precise driving on a narrow, dry line paid off as it helped him keep his tyres in better shape – well-tempered to start the laps and vigorous enough to end the qualifiers at high speed.
Despite the progress, he expressed disappointment with Ferrari‘s decision to hit the track “a bit too early” given the track’s evolution in mixed conditions. As a result, Verstappen, among the last to compete, recorded his lap time after Leclerc wrapped up.
On the specifics of his altered driving style on drying tracks, he claimed, he made “very slight changes”. Interestingly, he is experimenting with new modifications to the steering wheel tools that Ferrari drivers utilize to adjust the differential positioning to heighten car control during qualifying laps.
He admitted, “I have a very aggressive driving style, whether it’s in full wet or full dry, which pays off in those two conditions,” Regardless, when on slick tires, his technique doesn’t yield the desired results. He has experimented with varying approaches, made changes to the car set-up, and tailored the adjustments from corner to corner, which have significantly skyrocketed his confidence and lap times.