Charles Leclerc equalled his best result of the 2023 F1 season with a stunning drive to earn second place at the Las Vegas GP; Leclerc thinks, with some more fortune, victory was on the cards; Ferrari are just four points behind Mercedes in Constructors’ Championship in battle for second
Last Updated: 19/11/23 11:39am
Charles Leclerc believes a second Safety Car at the Las Vegas Grand Prix cost him the race win to Red Bull and Max Verstappen.
Leclerc was running in the net lead when race control called for a Safety Car on Lap 27 due to debris from a contact between Verstappen and George Russell.
Sergio Perez was the biggest beneficiary. Leading on the track on old hard tyres, the Mexican came into the pits for a new set of hards and was behind Leclerc, who did not pit, for the restart.
Verstappen also pitted for fresh tyres and rejoined fifth behind Oscar Piastri and Pierre Gasly. When the Safety Car was called, Leclerc had a two-second advantage over Verstappen and fresher tyres, with both drivers set to go to the end.
“Mixed emotions. On one hand, I’m extremely happy with today’s performance. I think we didn’t leave anything on the table and until the very last lap of the last corner I gave it my all and managed to get that second place,” said Leclerc.
“On the other hand, disappointed because I really believe that without the Safety Car, the win was ours. We had a really good first stint on the medium and we had five laps’ newer hards than Max.
“I had a good four or five laps in order to bring them into temperature and we had done a really good job on that, so I was really confident that the win was ours.
“Then there was unfortunately the Safety Car. Max and Checo stopped, I stayed on my five-lap used hard tyres. It’s not too much, five laps, but the problem is that when you cool them down during the Safety Car to restart, to restart a used tyre is incredibly difficult with those temperatures.
“Then we lost the race. But, I think the last part of the race was extremely fun and that gave me a lot of adrenaline inside the car and I really enjoyed it.”
Leclerc fought hard with Perez, losing the lead and retaking it, before both drivers were overtaken by Verstappen in an enthralling final 20 laps.
With eight laps to go, Leclerc ran wide at Turn 12 which handed second place to Perez but he made a sensational last lap move at Turn 14 at the end of the Las Vegas Strip to steal back the runners-up spot.
He did not quite have enough to win, although it was the closest the Monegasque driver has come to standing on the top step of the podium this year.
Asked if Ferrari should have pitted him, like Red Bull did with their drivers during the second Safety Car, Leclerc said: “It’s always easy to say now. I had only done five laps. On the other hand, I did not know what Max and Checo would do behind me.
“If they wouldn’t have stopped, then being behind two Red Bulls would have been difficult to pass them, so now I [would] have stopped but now I know what they would had done, so it’s too easy to say now.”
Verstappen’s penalty for first lap deserved?
At the start of the race, Verstappen snatched the lead away from Leclerc with an aggressive move on the inside at Turn One which the stewards penalised as they thought the Dutchman forced his rival off the track.
Forcing another driver wide has always been a big talking point in F1 and Leclerc feels the sanction for the offending driver should be to give the place back rather than a time penalty.
“Max already came to me and explained to me the situation. It was over the limit and I think the five-second penalty was deserved,” he explained.
“It was tight. I still tried to push off track but it was so low grip to try and keep that position. But it’s the way it is. He has been penalised, he paid a penalty and I think that was the right penalty to give.
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“I just think that in those kinds of situations, it will be better for the FIA to ask to give the place back because I think there’s quite a bit of an advantage to take care of tyres when you have free air.”
Leclerc managed to overtake Verstappen just before the Red Bull driver’s first pit stop and the three-time world champion explained his side of the incident.
“The start was good, but then we both braked late to defend the position but I was a bit on the inside, on the dirt. As soon as you a get bit offline here it’s a super low grip and that’s what happened,” he said.
“I braked and there was no grip. I didn’t mean to push Charles off the track but I couldn’t slow it down. I just kept on sliding on four wheels wide. That’s why we had to go wide.
“At the time, he was also full of adrenaline and I was not happy with the decision but, looking back at it, it was probably the right call and with that five seconds it was definitely a bit harder to come back to the front.”
He concluded: “I think we opted to just stay ahead at that point, so then you take the five-second penalty. I don’t know what’s better at the end. I paid the penalty, so doesn’t matter. In a way, if you go back behind, you probably also end up losing five seconds, so it’s pretty similar.”
After the thrills of Las Vegas, Formula 1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for the 2023 season finale and another stunning spectacle under the lights. Watch the Abu Dhabi weekend live on Sky Sports F1, with lights out on Sunday at 1pm. Stream F1 on Sky Sports with NOW