Charles Leclerc of Ferrari endured a fourth-place finish at Suzuka, falling behind the impressive duo from McLaren, Lando Norris, and Oscar Piastri. Both McLaren drivers clinched podium finishes, trailing only behind winner, Max Verstappen.
In an interesting twist, post-race events revealed that Leclerc was under the impression that he got to third. This stemmed from witnessing one of the Red Bull drivers pulled over under the framework of the virtual safety car. Leclerc assumed that it was race winner Verstappen who had stopped on track, not realizing it was actually Verstappen’s team-mate, Sergio Perez.
Perez, who suffered a disappointing afternoon with a damaged car, slowed his pace under the virtual safety car. This created, for Norris, a nearly 10-second hold-up marked by confusion whether it was permissible to overtake the Mexican driver. Leclerc, arriving at the scene, was also puzzled — not knowing which Red Bull driver he was passing.
“I saw [Max] stop at the [virtual] safety car, I don’t know what happened then, and I thought he wasn’t in the race anymore,” Leclerc expressed his bewilderment. “He was basically stopped on the left and we all overtook him.”
In his misconception, Leclerc had believed himself to be on course for a podium spot. “So, I thought I was doing a podium until the last lap when I actually looked at the board and I was P4!” he added.
The reporters then clarified to Leclerc that the halted Red Bull car was Perez, not Verstappen. “Oh right, maybe that was Checo! Because I thought Max was out of the race at that moment, it was just confusing for me.”
Beyond this mix-up, Leclerc assessed his performance as optimal, given the dominating performances by the McLarens on Suzuka’s challenging hot circuit. He highlighted the superior tyre management of his competitors, saying, “Yeah, they were super strong, so there were no surprises. It was the maximum we could do.”
Addressing the speed challenges for Ferrari, Leclerc noted, “‘Sector one [the twisty Esses] is definitely one of our main weaknesses compared to McLaren.That’s where most of the time is lost and we’ll be working on that for the rest of the season.”
Leclerc emphasized that though Ferrari made strides in understanding their car over the last four races, some characteristics still cannot be altered until the season’s end. Yet, he remains hopeful, concluding, “I hope we can come back to being the second-strongest team in Qatar.”