Leclerc is clearly not (yet) on the level of Verstappen and Hamilton

29-04-2022 09:09 | Updated: 29-04-2022 10:04
Leclerc is clearly not (yet) on the level of Verstappen and Hamilton

Charles Leclerc has been mentioned in the same breath as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for years, but in Imola it became clear that he is not at that level yet. Under pressure, the Monegasque is not always as level-headed as he pretends to be.

A blunder in Imola

In third place at the Imola Grand Prix, there was absolutely nothing wrong for Leclerc, until the Ferrari driver decided to go on the attack for second place. The Monegasque always uses a lot of kerb and that was now punished on a still damp track on new soft tires, which probably were not yet at the ideal temperature.

Leclerc has the speed of a champion and showed special things. His qualifying laps are sometimes masterful and in the rain he has also impressed several times. An outlier like Imola, however, is not new. In recent years we saw this happen more often.

Leclerc under pressure

Under high pressure, Leclerc often goes wrong. Think of his performances so far in his home country. In Monaco, he did not make it to the finish line a single time. In 2018 he had damage from a crash, in 2019 this was the case again and in 2021 he ruined his pole by flying into the wall in his second run and wrecking his suspension. As a result, he could not even start the race on Sunday.

Leclerc appears to struggle at all street circuits, as things also went wrong for the Monegasque in the second free practice session in Saudi Arabia in 2021 and he was also in the wall during qualifying for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

It is the pressure that is often a game-changer in Leclerc's racing. For example, he gave away the lead of the British Grand Prix to Lewis Hamilton in 2021 quite easily by going wide at Copse and threw away his own chances in the rain by crashing during the German Grand Prix in 2019.

In 2020, Leclerc also had three big moments. In the Styrian GP he popped on top of teammate Sebastian Vettel, in Italy he crashed out of the race himself and in Sakhir he ensured that his and Max Verstappen's race was over after a far too ambitious overtaking move. He doesn't seem to be learning from those mistakes for the time being.

Verstappen did learn

The comparison is easiest to make with generation mate Verstappen. The Dutchman also had a difficult period at the beginning of 2018 with a number of crashes in which the Red Bull driver was too eager. After that period of crashes, his constant phase began, which continues to this day. Except for a few moments, Verstappen is hardly ever involved in an incident because he wants something too badly or is under pressure.

Even in the championship year of 2021, Verstappen could hardly be caught at fault. Fans of Hamilton will point to the moments at Silverstone or Monza, but we didn't see the first real mistake until the penultimate race in Saudi Arabia where Verstappen shot into the wall during qualifying. There, for the first time, we saw a sign of pressure, just like at the start in Abu Dhabi. However, then the pressure was full-on in the final stage of the title fight.

The pressure is not that high yet

A mistake like Leclerc made in Imola does not fit in with Hamilton and Verstappen. Hamilton and Verstappen were almost faultless for a whole year and thus made the title fight particularly exciting. Leclerc is now making a mistake due to pressure far too early in the season, while that pressure will only increase the longer this title fight lasts.

Leclerc is a great talent, but at the moment not yet a driver who belongs to the absolute top (Hamilton and Verstappen). For that, these mistakes, which Verstappen and Hamilton rarely make in the heat of the battle, need to get out of his system. The speed is there, but he must now prove that he can also keep the peace mentally.

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